- Cicuta, Latin for "hemlock, poison from the hemlock"
- maculata, Latin for "spotted"
- Spotted Water Hemlock, from the purple-mottled stem base
- Other common names include: Water Hemlock, Common Water Hemlock, Spotted
Cowbane, Musquash Root, carotte à Moreau (Qué), Linnéherbariet (Swe)
- Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
- Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
- Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
- Subclass Rosidae
- Order Apiales
- Family Apiaceae (Umbelliferaceae), the Parsley
and Carrots, 2850 species in 275 genera of global distribution
but mostly north temperate regions. Includes the common
herbs anise, carrot, celery, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley,
and parsnip, as well as the highly toxic hemlocks.
- Genus Cicuta, the Water Hemlocks
- Taxonomic Serial Number: 29456
- Family Apiaceae characterised by alternate leaves, widening at
the base into a sheath that clasps the stem. Stems often furrowed. Flowers
usually compound, almost always concentrated in flat-topped umbels. Flowers
have 5 petals, usually uneven, and 5 stamens. Seeds and fruit form below
where the petals and stamen originate. Fruit two-chambered, separating into
two, single-seed fruits at maturity. Some part of the plant usually has
a strong aroma, due primarily to various oils produced by the plant.
- A coarse, stout, wetland perennial, 20"-80" tall
- Leaves alternate, compound, twice or thrice divided, with petioles
that partially sheath the stem. Uppermost leaves not dissected. Oblong to
ovate in general outline, these compound leaves run 3"-10" long and 2"-6"
wide. Basal leaves larger and with longer petioles than cauline leaves.
- Leaflets linear to broadly lanceolate, pointed at the tip, rounded
or tapering to the base, mostly 1"-4" long, ¼"-1¼" wide, hairy,
with regularly pointed and notched edges. Leaflet veins extend into or near
the notches of the leaf rather than in the points.
- Stems solitary or few together from a tuberous-thickened and chambered
base, conspicuously hollow above the base. Erect, branched, each about 2"
long. hairy, up to 7' tall. Often has a purple striped or mottled stem base.
glabrous, hollow stems Stems are smooth, branching, swollen at the base,
purple-striped or mottled, and hollow except for partitions at the junction
of the root and stem. with cross-partitions at the nodes and many of these
at the base of the stem
- A yellow, oily, highly toxic liquid smelling like parsnips exudes from
cut stems and roots.
- Roots partly tuberous, in dahlia-like clusters of 2 to 8 fleshy
roots, each about 2" long, with a scent of parsnip.
- Flowers white, many; in compound, flat-topped, umbrella-like clusters
at ends of stems and branches.
- Sepals 5, green, triangular.
- Petals 5, free, white, about 1/10" long.
- Ovary inferior (below flower)
- Fruit small, dry, nearly spherical, smooth but with prominent corky
ribs; up to ¼" long. Ripening July-September.
- A waterside plant
- Identifiable as one of the Apiaceae by its broad, flat flower
clusters, hollow stem, and clasping leaves.
- Distinguished from all other similar species by its compound leaves divided
into leaflets more than ½" broad, its large umbels of white
flowers, its smooth fruits, and axils not bearing bulbils.
- Similar plants:
- Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a highly toxic exotic
(Socrate's bane) which does not occur in the BWCA area but has become
naturalised through much of the eastern US. Poison Hemlock leaves are
heavily dissected and fernlike, as opposed to the lanceolate leaflets
with sharply-toothed edges of Spotted Water Hemlock.
- Bulb Bearing Water Hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera)
has narrow leaflets, bulbils in the leaf axils, and lacks purple mottling
on the stem.
- Water Parsnip (Sium suave), is not
poisonous and has toothed lanceolate leaflets.
- Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)
has large palmate leaves rather than toothed, compound leaves.
- Alaska to Quebec, south to Florida, Texas, and California, into northern
- Edges of ponds, lakes, and streams; shallow waters. Also wet meadows,
marshes, swamps, springs, roadside ditches, and other wet places.
- Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), has been prescribed as a folk
medicine antidote for the poison of the Water Hemlock.
- POISON. All parts are considered poisonous to most animals; the
amount of root that must be eaten to cause death is very small. Botanically
related to the infamous Poison Hemlock but toxicologically different.
- Very poisonous alkaloid and resinoid (Cicutoxin and cicutolare) found
in all parts of the plant, primarily in the roots but also in the pithy
area between the nodes. Cicutoxin is a yellow, viscous resin with a carrot-like
odor, which affects the central nervous system.
- Considered most violently toxic plant in North America. Humans and livestock
are susceptible to poisoning and death after ingesting plant material. The
onset of symptoms is often so sudden and traumatic that treatments are not
always successful. Symptoms include salivation, muscle spasms, violent convulsions,
coma, and death from respiratory failure. Death reported to occur in as
little as 15 minutes to 2-3 hours after a lethal dose.
- Roots may be mistaken for wild parsnip or artichoke and humans have been
killed after only one or two bites of what they thought were "parsnips"
(water hemlock root resembles a parsnip).
- All animals can be affected, but cattle are especially at risk, hence
the name "cowbane", as the plant grows in soil which is wet and damp, enabling
the animal to easily pull up the plant. Most cases occur in the springtime
when the plants are smaller and apparently more palatable and the roots
are easily pulled up.
- Animals may also be poisoned if water hemlock is plowed under or if ground
is reclaimed, since this may expose the root. Toxicity decreases through
the growing season, and the toxicity of above-ground parts may be negligible
when dry. The roots however are toxic at all times, even when dry. Animals
have been poisoned by drinking water that had been contaminated with trampled
water hemlock roots.
- Wash your hands after handling this plant.
- Reproduces by seed and vegetatively
- Flowers June-September
- Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
- Cultural Requirements
- Full sun
- Muddy soil
- Wet soil to 6" water depth.
- Size 30"H
- Rarely cultivated due to toxicity.
- We've found this one in bloom along the shore at BWCAW campsites.
Last updated on
26 February, 2004