Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions
BRIEF: What are the physical differences between water hemlock and
I am confused, please enlighten me if you will as to the difference in appearance of "wild" carrot and water hemlock. Does water hemlock have a "carrotlike" leaf type with purple motling/stripes on the stems ? This is what a naturalist has told me. If this is so then this stuff is all over the place here in southeast Ohio and it is all over the yard but I have also seen it in "dry" fields around the area. Please assist me as I am now in a state of mild panic("STAY AWAY FROM THOSE PLANTS,THEY'LL KILL YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!") I have lived in peaceful co- existance with these plants for years.
There are three plants (at least) involved in this very common confusion. Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is incredibly poisonous, especially the root. It has pinnately compound leaves, but the leaflets themselves are entire, with little teeth around the edges. The stem is smooth, and the plant has a mousey stinky oder. The root is tuberous with little chambers of yellow poison. Poison Hemlock (Conium maculata) is also poisonous (it killed Socrates!) and has smooth stems, but the stems are mottled and streaked with purple spots (some literature indicates Cicuta can be purple spotted, too and I know some kinds of water hemlock that have stems that look just plain purplish green). Poison Hemlock also has more finely divided leaves that are TWICE pinnately compound with more deeply toothed leaflets. Poison Hemlock stinks when crushed, too. Wild carrot (Daucus carrota) is very hairy, has no spots, does not stink and has a solid little, at least faintly, orangish or yellowish tap root. I don't plan to eat anything that looks like any of these myself.