Plants and flowers of all shapes and sizes abound during the summer months, and some of them may be lovely to look at but they could also be poisonous.
One such plant is poison hemlock, which bears a striking resemblance to Queen Anne’s lace.
A favorite summer tradition was picking Queen Anne’s lace and putting it in a glass of water with food dye – then watching the delicate white buds turn shades of blue, red, green and purple. That was a treat.
If poison hemlock is gathered instead, it can lead to rashes and allergic reactions, which are not a treat.
WVU extension agent Greg Hamons said there is a subtle difference between the two plants and people should be on the lookout when they are out this summer.
“It is definitely larger,” he said, of poison hemlock. “It does have a white flower. It’s similar to Queen Anne’s lace, but it has a much larger stem, larger leaves; same kind of pattern, but just a bigger plant overall.”
The white flowers of the hemlock plant grow in clusters, its stem has purple spots, and it can grow to be nine feet tall.
Poison hemlock prefers to grow near waterways, but can also be found in gardens, backyards and nearly anywhere plants grow.
“A lot of these plants travel up and down waterways and water systems, so you often find it along the Greenbrier River and its tributaries,” Hamons said. “Seeds have been passed up and down the river by different methods – wind, birds, water – whatever it may be, but a lot of time, poison hemlock is found along waterways.”
Like allergies, people react to poisonous plants in different ways. Hamons said he doesn’t have a reaction to poison hemlock, but some people may break out with a rash and have a more severe reaction.
Animals have even suffered by encounters with the plant.
“Ingesting it is the one thing you don’t want to do, obviously,” Hamons said. “Especially for animals. They’ve seen it can cause some respiratory issues, muscle paralysis, things like that. Typically, livestock know not to eat that kind of stuff, but not always.”
Along with poison hemlock, there is also poison ivy and, to a lesser extent, poison oak in the county, which also cause reactions.
Poison ivy is also prevalent anywhere plants grow. The old adage “Leaves of three, let it be,” is an easy way to help identify poison ivy. It is a shade tolerant plant, Hamons said, and can be found along fences, in gardens and yards.
If you come across a plant and you’re not sure what it is, the best course of action is the call the extension office to get help with identification.
“My advice to people is, if you don’t know what something is, contact our office and we can help you identify it and find ways to get rid of it,” Hamons said. “We’ll let you know if it is or is not poisonous. There are a ton of different plants out there and it’s evolving all the time just because we get new invasives all the time.”
The WVU extension office is located in the basement of the Pocahontas County Courthouse, and Hamons may be contacted at 304-799-4852.