Poison hemlock explodes across the area

Herald News Intern

Poison hemlock, an invasive species native to Europe, has been rapidly exploding in the area according to Purdue Extension Forester Ron Rathfon. 

Extremely dangerous and even deadly to both humans and livestock, the plant has become a problem in the region within the last few years.

Originating in Europe, the plant was initially brought to the United States as a garden plant because of its attractive flowers, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. It is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete its life cycle.

Rathfon said the invasive plant is spread by its seeds and can be found along roadsides, streams, ditches and throughout crop fields. Populations of this plant have been established in every county in Indiana according to Rathfon.

County Highway Superintendent Steve Berg said the department has implemented a program to help eliminate poison hemlock in the area. The department begins spraying to kill the species in early spring along county roads in the area that are within the department’s right of way. The department’s weed board will meet Tuesday to discuss poison hemlock in the county and what landowners can do about it.

So what makes the plant poisonous?

According to Rathfon, the plant contains a group of highly poisonous alkaloid compounds, which are deadly to humans and animals. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources says that all parts of poison hemlock are poisonous, including the leaves, stems, fruit and roots. Fortunately, one cannot be harmed by mere touch; however, the consumption of the plant can be fatal.

Symptoms as a result of ingestion can occur within 20 minutes and as late as three hours after consumption. Symptoms can include nervous trembling, salivation, dilation of the pupils, lack of coordination, rapid or weak pulse, respiratory paralysis, coma and eventually death.

The invasive plant can be easily confused with wild carrot — Daucus carota, or Queen Anne’s Lace — a look-alike, harmless plant. While both plants grow white flowers, poison hemlock grows many clusters of flowers in an umbrella shape, usually beginning in spring. The wild carrot produces one dense flower cluster later in the summer.

Poison hemlock can grow more than 8 feet high and has a hairless stem covered in purple spots. The wild carrot grows up to 3 feet tall and has a hairy stem.

If you are to come across poison hemlock in your yard, on your farm, along the roadside or anywhere else, Rathfon advises to try and control the plant, if possible. It is easiest to control if it is still living in its first year, because it has not grown as tall and is closer to the ground. It can be controlled by spraying the plant with proper treatment. The plant can also be controlled by mowing it down before it begins to produce seeds. If you do mow the plant, be sure to wear protective clothing, gloves and eye protection.

If symptoms of poisoning are suspected, call the National Capital Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.                

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