Looks can be deceiving. There are several plants in nature that may look pretty on the outside, but whose beauty hides what they are truly capable of. Poison hemlock is a perfect example of this, and, according to Karla Ward of the Lexington Herald-Leader, it's starting to bloom all across the state of Kentucky.

What is Poison Hemlock?

Poison Hemlock Proliferates On Kent Roadsides
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According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, grows all over the country and its deceptive beauty is how it found its way here. Thanks to its pretty, white flowers, it was brought over from Europe to serve as a garden plant. Obviously, this was before anyone figured out it was poisonous which makes me wonder how many animals died before someone figured it out?

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The seeds of the plant are contained in the buds where the white flowers bloom. The National Parks Service says as the plant matures, the white petals fall off, leaving the seeds to either fall to the ground, or be carried away to another location by birds, water, wind, or attaching to an animal's fur.

It's often found growing on roadsides near ditches, creeks, the edges of cultivated fields, or other locations where moisture is common.

Poison Hemlock is Deadly to Animals and Humans


Every part of the plant is poisonous. The seeds, the leaves, the stem, everything. And, a person or animal doesn't have to eat much for it to kill them. The USDA says cattle can be poisoned eating as little as 500 grams (about 1.1 pounds) which sounds like a lot of food in one sitting for you and me, but considering a cow typically eats about 24 pounds of food per day, 1.1 pounds is a light snack. Imagine how little it would take if your dog or cat got a hold of some.

Once it's consumed, it's pretty well game over for the poor animal who was just looking for something to eat. The USDA says,

Signs usually appear within an hour after an animal eats the plant. Animals die from respiratory paralysis in 2 to 3 hours.

Hemlock Poisoning in Humans

The plant can be just as deadly for humans. What makes it deadly is the toxic alkaloids it contains which "can affect nerve impulse transmission to your muscles, eventually killing you," according to Healthline. While the chances of someone eating a random plant are low, just touching it "may cause a skin reaction in some people." The USDA says there are reported cases of children dying after using whistles made from the hollow stem.

Symptoms can appear as soon as 30 minutes after consuming poison hemlock and include trembling, burning in the digestive tract, increased salivation, dilated pupils, muscle pain, muscle weakness or muscle paralysis, rapid heart rate followed by a decreased heart rate, loss of speech, convulsions, unconsciousness, or coma. Healthline also says that as of right now there is no antidote. However, doctors will try to keep you breathing, even if that means using a ventilation machine, and may resort to pumping your stomach to get the poison out before your body fully digests it.

How to Kill Poison Hemlock


The problem with controlling or getting rid of poison hemlock is that it if you don't realize you have it until after it blooms, you're too late. According to the USDA's Forest Service, early detection is key in trying to control or eliminate it from your property. But, there is a catch. New hemlock looks nothing like mature hemlock. It stays low to the ground and features several green leaves that honestly look like every other plant.

If you do catch it before it matures, you can use a herbicide (a.k.a. weed killer) to nip it in the bud, or you can physically remove it using a tiller or shovel, according to the Forest Service. If you choose that route, be sure to cover any exposed skin as it could cause you to break out in a rash. Check out this document from the Forest Service for more information.

[Sources: Lexington Herald-Leader / USDA Agricultural Research Service / National Parks Service / Oklahoma State University / Healthline / USDA Forest Service]

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