ChiloquinNews article 7/4/2011
A couple of years ago a friend asked me to come and look at a plant that was growing extremely well in her garden but she didn’t know what it was. She said it had lacy white flowers. Uh oh, time for caution. I had read a terrific review article on Wally Hansen’s Native plant Nursery website, so I knew that it could either be quite harmless, or deadly poisonous. Turned out to be deadly poisonous, so it was removed with care by inverting a plastic bag over it, digging cautiously to get all the root, sealing it in the bag and disposing of it in the trash. Not something you want to burn or compost, and especially not touch! It was Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), and all parts of it can be poisonous. Do not breathe the pollen either. In ancient Greece, the pollen was used to poison political prisoners. Native Americans once used hemlock to poison tips of arrows.
Although the leaves of Lovage (Ligusticum grayi) are edible and taste like celery, the seeds make a pleasant spice and the roots are used medicinally, this plant is so easily confused with water hemlock that it’s best to leave it alone unless you are quite certain of the identification.
Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculate), a native, grows in wetlands, and we certainly have a lot of water around here. All parts can be poisonous and cause severe seizures and convulsions. Death can occur in as little as 15 minutes after ingesting even a small part of the plant.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), while not poisonous, is invasive and extremely hard to eradicate due to the strong, deep taproot and the fact that the seeds are much like Velcro and stick to anything that brushes against them. You can keep it in check if you pick all the flowers.
You probably won’t confuse it with the hemlocks because the leaves are very finely cut.
Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a beautiful and huge plant, sometimes growing to 12 ft tall. Any gardener would love to have it – but don’t. It’s a federally listed noxious weed, native to the Caucasus Mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas, that has become established in Oregon, though I haven’t seen any around Chiloquin. Perhaps we are a little too cold for it. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness.
Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) is a common wetlands plant here and is a lovely plant, growing to perhaps 6 ft tall under ideal conditions. While not poisonous, the sap can cause a dermatitis reaction which is aggravated by exposure to sun. In some cases the rash may be severe and persist for many months. This can be a hazard for those who go out weed whacking the cow parsnip.
So, enjoy the woods and the wetlands, but do watch out for the lacy white flowers!