Wildwood Survival website

SURVIVAL
Shelter
Water
Fire
Food
Clothing
Fishing
Hunting
Traps
Snares
Tools
Stone
Flintknapping
Tracker Knife
Cordage
Containers
Furniture
Lights
Hides
Pitch & Glue
Winter
Health
Lyme Disease
Vision
Native People
Emergency Prep
Navigation
Teaching
Young People
Practicing
Music
Humour
More
Wilderness Mind
Site Disclaimer
Bookstore
Booklist
Forums
Contributors
Sitemap
Guestbook
About this site
Use of material
Email me
Privacy Policy
HomeSurvivalFoodPoisonous Plants

Water Hemlock & Bulblet-bearing Water Hemlock

Cicuta maculata & Cicuta bulbifera
 

The Water Hemlocks are the most poisonous plants in North America. All parts are deadly poisonous. Even a small mouthful can kill an adult.

Therefore it stands to reason that ingesting even a little bit of the juice will make a person seriously ill.

So, it is best to learn to identify these plant by sight, rather than characteristics that require you to handle it or examine the roots or inside of the stem. It is so virulently poisonous that it is best to avoid handling it at all.

Most poisonings have occurred due to confusion with edible look-alikes.

Please do not rely solely on this web page for identifying these plants. Consult field guides for more detailed information.

Do not handle these plants. If you do, thoroughly clean your hands immediately afterwards. Take appropriate steps to avoid accidentally ingesting any part of these plants or their juice.

It is particularly important for wilderness survival enthusiasts to learn this plant, as its stems are hollow and are therefore appear to be ideally suited for use as straws. Don't make use of this plant in this way - many poisonings have occurred in this manner.

 

 

Water Hemlock
(Cicuta maculata)

 

Other common names: Spotted Cowbane

Family: Parsley Family (Apiaceae)

Distinctive features: Wet areas. Alternate twice-compound leaves; leaflets sometimes haphazard in arrangement.

Similar species:

  • Water Parsnip - very similar, except the leaves are only once-compound
  • Cowbane - Also poisonous, and closely resembles Water Parsnip.
  • Mock Bishop's Weed
  • Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock
  • Wild Carrot (Queen Anne's Lace) - but this plant grows in dry areas
  • Other members of the Parsley Family.

Height: 3-6 feet tall

Flowers: Small white flowers in a flat or rounded umbel (an umbrella-shaped cluster) 2-5" wide. Individual flowers about 1/8" wide, have 5 petals and 5 stamens.

Leaves: Alternate compound leaves with lance-shaped leaflets, pointed, with numerous teeth. Note the sometimes multiples of leaves giving rise to a somewhat haphazard arrangement of leaves along the leaf stem. Sometimes doubly compound or lobed. Sometimes tinged with red. Up to about 4" long, 1.5" wide. The veins on the leaflets end at the notches between the teeth (this is unusual in plants).

Stem: Branching, smooth & stout, often mottled or solid purple. Hollow. Lower part of stem chambered. Roots have fat tuberlike branches.

Habitat: Wet open areas such as marshes, along shores, and sometimes open swamps.

Longevity: Perennial

The information on this page has been taken from my Ontario Wildflowers website.

  

The whole plant. Note its somewhat open ragged look.

  

Leaves.

  
Another look at the leaves.
  

These leaves are a bit abnormal - they are "chunkier" than usual.

As always with plant identifications ... watch out for the aberrant individuals.

  

Flower umbel.

  

Many mini-clusters of tiny flowers.

  

 

  

A closer view.

  

Individual flowers.

  

Photo of the stem. Note the purplish tinge.

Also note the "glaucous" aspect of the stem - the whitish bloom which is easily wiped off.

  

Another stem. Note also the fine vertical lines running vertically along the stem.

The stems are hollow. This tempting aspect has led to poisonings of children who find the stems appealing as pea shooters.

  

Seeds in late fall, early winter.

  

Water Hemlock in the dead of winter.

Note the leftover flower umbel.

Get to know this plant very well in the summer, so you can avoid it in the winter.

  

Herbarium specimens of Water Hemlock.

(Photo taken at the Royal Botanical Gardens Herbarium, Burlington, Ontario)

  

This herbarium specimen shows the tuberous roots.

 

  

Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock 
(Cicuta bulbifera)

 

Other common names: Bulblet-bearing Water Hemlock

Family: Parsley Family (Apiaceae)

Distinctive features: Spindly plant. Leaves narrow and finely divided. Wet areas. Stem hollow.

Similar species:

  • Water Hemlock - The leaves are very different.
  • Mock Bishop's Weed
  • Other members of the Parsley Family.

Height: 3-7 feet tall

Flowers: Sparse, white, in an umbel (an umbrella-shaped cluster) about 1-2" wide. Individual flowers about 1/8" wide, with 5 petals and 5 stamens.

Leaves: Widely spaced alternate compound leaves have very narrow leaflets. Leaflets up to 3" long. Widely spaced ragged teeth. Tiny bulblets occur in the axils (where a leaflet joins the stem).

Stem: Widely spaced branches. Hollow.

Habitat: Wet open areas such as marshes, along shores, and sometimes open swamps

Longevity: Perennial

Comments: DEADLY POISONOUS

The information on this page has been taken from my Ontario Wildflowers website.

  
A Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock reaching over a boardwalk.
  
Note the narrow, almost filmy leaves.
  
The leaves of this plant are very different from "regular" Water Hemlock.
  
A close view of a leaf.
  
And another.
  
This photo shows the bulbs that grow along the stems. They are not always visible.
  
Flowers.
  
The flowers seems to be a bit sparser than those of regular Water Hemlock.
  

Herbarium specimen of Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock.

(Photo taken at the Royal Botanical Gardens Herbarium, Burlington, Ontario)