Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just when you think it's safe to go outside...

When the Spring Beauties pop up in my yard I mow around them till the flowers fade. Same thing with the little wild violets in the front and the wild daisies in my mother's lawn. And right at our back porch, what I thought to be Queen Anne's Lace (also called Wild Carrot) comes up every year and I just let it be - to enjoy the delicate white umbrels for a while before cutting them back when they get too weedy.

Recently I was studying a Queen Anne's Lace flower and realized significant differences in it and what grows in our yard. I've been meaning to try to key it out. Maybe it's a native member of the carrot family I thought. Knowing me as I do, and few know me better, it's a wonder I didn't crush a leaf and taste it, or stick a stem in my teeth as I wander about the yard.

Today Richard and Teresa Ware dropped by with their friend Jim Drake to talk about plans for the Georgia Botanical Society's Spring Pilgrimage to be held next April here in Rome. We probably spent a couple of hours talking about the Pilgrimage, then reviewing my wildflower photos to identify the ones I hadn't figured out yet. As they were leaving I remembered the "Queen Anne's Lace", pointed it out to Richard and Jim. They both said immediately that it was definitely not Q.A.L. They began examining it. Crushing leaves and smelling them. Checking their every-ready field guides. Richard has taken a plant home - roots and all - to key it out more carefully, but the preliminary verdict is that, growing at my doorstep -- where my children, my neices and nephews, my friends' youngsters, have played -- is that famous plant, world famous for over two-thousand years, the plant whose juices were forced upon Socrates himself, yes:

Conium maculatum
Poison Hemlock

The most poisonous plant in America!

It is lovely. The umbrella flowers are delicate.

The pinnately compound ferny leaves look like the innocuous little sprigs of parsley that decorate a fancy dish.

And they are a part of that wonderful/terrible parsley [Apiaceae] family that gives us dill to spice our pickles, crunchy carrots for our salads, decorative garnish for desserts, anise for licorice candy and root beer, fennel for Chinese five spice and to feed the swallowtail butterflies, caraway seed for rye bread, coriander, cumin, celery, parsnips...

...and hemlock's potent poison for livestock who own no field guides and can't use Google images, for the occasional child who thinks the hollow stem makes a great straw, or for the outdoorsman who wonders it the carrot-like taproot just might be a way to flavor that wild stew.

Stay tuned -- I'll update when Richard gives me a final verdict.




After keying in several books and verifying by Google internet search I'm sorry to say that you'll have to retract your identification of the poison hemlock! Your plant is:

Torilis arvensis (Hedge Parsley), which is native to Europe but now an introduced weed here.

Best regards,

Well, the excitement is over. I have not, after all, been endangering visitors by harboring a dangerous killer plant. It is just another noxious invasive species. Read about it here.

Thanks, Richard!


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