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Wild Ozark’s Plant ID Challenge: May’s Mystery

This month’s Star Plant Guesser is Janet Webb, who correctly identified May’s Mystery plant as Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum).

Each month, around the middle of the month, I’ll post a plant ID challenge for readers to test their identification skills.

Every day until someone correctly guesses the true name of the mystery plant, I’ll post a new clue.

May’s Mystery Plant: First Clue for the Plant ID Challenge

First clue is just the photo. The first clue will always be just the photo 😉

May's Mystery - Wild Ozark's Plant ID Challenge
Can you guess the true name of this plant? Common names are often given to many plants, so comment the scientific name. If you know the common name it’s easy to find the other on the internet 😉

Check back tomorrow to see if anyone guessed it, or to get the next clue!

Already a Winner!

Gosh, I didn’t even get to sleep yet when Janet Webb guessed correctly that this is Conium maculata, or poison hemlock.

But wait!

Another contestant from the FB page commented that it might be “Water Hemlock”. Well, are these two the same, or not? Without a scientific name, it’s hard to say.

So I started doing the research. Turns out they are NOT the same, and that this plant I thought is plain old poison hemlock might actually be water hemlock, or Cicuta douglasii.

More Hemlock Clues and Pictures Anyway

Poison Hemlock leaves
Poison Hemlock Stem Junction
Stem junction

Death by Different Mechanisms

Both poison hemlock and water hemlock are often fatal if eaten by humans. It’s probably more often fatal than not, especially if the person isn’t somewhere that knowledgeable help is nearby.

The toxin in water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) causes seizures, foaming at the mouth, anxiety, and death after a while. It’s the root that’s the culprit in this one, which is the part most likely mistaken for the wild carrot. Horses sometimes accidentally pull up the plant when grazing near water. The toxins are less concentrated in other parts of the plant.

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is the herb used by Socrates to kill himself. The death is not pleasant, as it paralyzes from the lower extremities and creeps higher until the diaphragm loses the ability to cause the lungs to take in a breath. The victim is still conscious and alert at this point. The whole plant is toxic, but the seeds contain the highest concentrations.

Sometimes animals only eat a little and do survive afterwards. The ones who survive at least 8 hours after are more likely to live. Pregnant animals who survive often deliver deformed offspring.

My short story Ozark Pixies features the poison hemlock in place of wild carrot. It’s a free read everywhere except Amazon.

Why would anyone eat it?

Wild carrot looks a lot like both of these plants, and it’s a wild edible (and medicinal). The scientific name for that one is Daucus carota. It’s also known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

Here’s a pic of that flower.

Queen Annes Lace
Queen Annes Lace, also called wild carrot. The scientific name is Daucus carota.

They’re all three in the same family, the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, also sometimes called the ‘carrot’ family.

While the poison hemlock is also medicinal in tiny doses, the danger of death is so great that I wouldn’t use this one at all. There are safer alternatives.

9 thoughts on “Wild Ozark’s Plant ID Challenge: May’s Mystery”

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    1. Thanks for that! I didn’t realize that, but there is a hemlock they call water hemlock here so I pulled out the book I should have looked in to begin with, the Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Arkansas. Like you said, there is no C. douglasii listed, but there is a C. maculata which goes by the common name of “water hemlock”, and the other hemlock C. maculatum, or “poison hemlock”. I wish they wouldn’t name things so closely like that!

  1. My first guess was Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota, which I had to look up), but if not, perhaps it’s poison hemlock/Conium maculatum (had to look that up as well.) 🙂


    1. Uh, well the second half of your comment didn’t show up in my message preview on my phone app, but your second guess is correct! Congratulations! I’ll have to pick something harder next time, haha. Tomorrow I’ll add the other pictures and more info 🙂

    2. And now I might have to take back your win, Janet. LOL, another person on FB said it might be “water hemlock” but didn’t give the scientific name. Well… I started digging to find out if there is a difference, and sure enough there is. That’s a different plant altogether and might actually be the one we have. Still researching now. The game is still on and I’m learning something new, too!

    3. After some research, I think the one I have pictured is poison hemlock. The leaves on it are different than the water hemlock, though they both have purple spotted stems and both are fatally toxic. However, they kill by different mechanisms because the poisons in each are different. Interesting stuff! And you’re still the winner 🙂

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