Image for the article titled How to Tell the Difference Between Poison Hemlock and a Harmless Flower When the Invasive Species Spread

Photo: Marina Lesnitskaya (Shutterstock)

Let’s say you’re taking a late summer stroll and come across a piece of familiar-looking flowers with long, thin stems and tiny white flowers that grow together into round clusters. They appear to be the tip of Queen Anne – a flowering plant you’ve seen in flower arrangements that you may have made crowns out of as a kid.

But they could also be a poison hemlock and that’s not a chance you want to take. Let’s take a look at the differences between Queen Anne’s lace and poison hemlock – an invasive species and currently widespread throughout the country.

What is a poison hemlock?

Poisonous hemlock didn’t originate in the United States but has been growing across the country since someone brought it from Europe to use as a decorative flower in the 19th century, according to the Michigan State University expansion. Unfortunately, any decorative use of the plant is overshadowed by the fact that it is an invasive species and is poisonous to humans, pets, livestock, and other animals.

The tricky part is that Poison Hemlock, like other members of the carrot family, sprouts white umbrella flowers – clusters of small flowers that grow together from several short stems that resemble an umbrella. And of all the members of the family, the poison hemlock is most closely related to the wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s lace, and is also widely available.

How to tell the difference between poison hemlock and Queen Anne lace

Aside from looking alike, both poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s tip are biennial and only produce leaves in the first year, then white flowers and thousands of seeds in the second year, and then die. Now let’s take a look at the differences, courtesy of the Michigan State University expansion:


  • Poison hemlock: June to August
  • Head of Queen Anne: July to September


  • Venom Hemlock: Hollow stems that are green with purple spots
  • Queen Anne’s tip: Solid green stems


  • Poison hemlock: Hairless leaves
  • Head of Queen Anne: Fine hairs on the leaves


  • Venom Hemlock: Has an unpleasant odor when rubbed
  • Head of Queen Anne: Roots smell like carrots


  • Venom Hemlock: 6-10 feet tall at maturity
  • Queen Anne’s tip: 1-2 feet tall at maturity

How poison hemlock can make you sick

Any part of the poison hemlock plant is toxic to humans (and animals) if ingested Michigan State University expansion explained. So, in any case, don’t eat it and make sure kids don’t know either.

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Additionally, Venom Hemlock’s juice contains a phototoxic compound that you don’t want to get on your skin as it can cause ultra-sensitivity to UV light, which can cause blisters after exposure to the sun. But luckily, it’s not a poison ivy situation where light brushing against the leaves can cause a terrible reaction. Instead, in a poison hemlock plant, the sap occurs only in the stem. Even so, it’s a good idea not to touch it at all.