(Above) Both Poison Hemlock and Wild Parsley have clusters of umbrella-shaped flowers that look similar to the flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace. The Wild Parsnip flowers will turn yellow as they mature. Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Queen Anne’s Lace is a lovely name for a pretty wildflower. But beware the look-alikes that have become common in West Virginia, particularly Wild Parsnip, Poison Hemlock, and Cow Parsley. All of these are in the same “wild carrot” family and all are invasive plants that sprout in newly disturbed soil or areas that are mowed infrequently (but enough to clear other plants and give an advantage to these fast-growing invaders). While Queen Anne’s Lace looks lovely to pick for a bouquet of flowers, the other three can be quite unpleasant to touch and are toxic if ingested.
Look for the Purple & Yellow
If you see tall plants (3 to 6 feet) with the characteristic umbrellas of small white flowers in May or June, you’re likely looking at Poison Hemlock. A key give-away for Poison Hemlock is purple splotches on the stems. Wild Parsnip also blooms in May and June but its flower umbrellas have a yellow color. Locally, Queen Anne’s Lace blooms in July and August at the same time as Cow Parsley. Both of these summer bloomers have white flower umbrellas, but the stems of the Queen Anne’s Lace will be hairy and green while the stems of Cow Parsley will be smooth and greenish-purple (a solid color, not splotchy like the Poison Hemlock).
Potentially Deadly to Animals & People
Locally, Poison Hemlock has become quite common, but it’s not something you want in your garden or pasture fields. If eaten, symptoms in both animals and humans include trembling, convulsions, vomiting, and difficulty breathing (including respiratory paralysis). For some, the sap of the plant can also cause skin rashes and eye irritation. The sap of the Wild Parsnip is particularly irritating and can cause blistering. While some consider the leaves of Cow Parsley edible, the roots are toxic.
Emily Morrow, Agricultural & Natural Resources Agent of the West Virginia University Extension Service offered guidelines on removing Poison Hemlock. “Hand removal is the recommended method — do not mow it. You’ll want to wear gloves and long sleeves and long pants. And be sure to wash yourself afterwards. Put all of the plants in plastic bags and discard in the trash. Don’t burn or compost these plants.” She also says that “chemical control is another option. That’s best done in the spring or fall when the plan is not in its active phase.” The WVU Extension office doesn’t have specific removal guidelines for Wild Parsnip — but extension offices in other states where it is more common recommend using the same methods used to remove Poison Hemlock.
The WVU Extension office website has additional information on how to identify, remove, & control these and other invasive plants: Extension.WVU.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/weedsBy Staff Contributor