A Toxic Plant Is Invading U.S. Gardens — Here's How to Protect Humans and Pets

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If you have a garden or lawn (or any outdoor space, really), you've likely seen your fair share of weeds. And while most of these invasive plants are simply a nuisance, others can be pretty dangerous. Case in point: Poison hemlock, a toxic weed, is quickly spreading across the country.

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But what is poison hemlock, exactly? According to PennState Extension, poison hemlock is a weed that's native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. It's also a member of the parsley family. However, despite its safe and delicious relative, poison hemlock is super toxic. When consumed, it's fatal to humans and animals, including dogs and cats. It can also cause mild irritation if it comes into contact with skin.

The extra-concerning part is that poison hemlock looks like Queen Anne's lace, aka wild carrot, a common wildflower that's sometimes used for decorative purposes. What's more, like most weeds, poison hemlock can thrive in a variety of places. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, you can find it along railroad tracks, rivers, bike paths, and the edges of fields. It also grows in parks and unkept areas, like empty lots with overgrown weeds.

That said, whether you're gardening, hiking, or walking your dog — it's important to keep an eye out for the plant.

How to identify poison hemlock:

The following features are characteristic of poison hemlock:

  • Purple spots on the stem (main feature)
  • Umbrella-shaped clusters of white flowers, each with five tiny petals
  • Flowers bloom between May and August
  • Fern-like leaves that are more long than wide

How to remove poison hemlock:

The best way to remove poison hemlock depends on the amount. According to the USDA, digging out the plants can control smaller invasions. (Just be sure to wear protective clothing and avoid inhaling the plant's particles.) For larger invasions, your best bet is to contact a local weed control expert for personalized guidance.

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Kirsten Nunez is a journalist and author focusing on food, health, and DIY. In May 2014, she published a craft book, "Studs & Pearls: 30 Creative Projects for Customized Fashion." Her work has appeared on eHow, PopSugar, Shape, VegNews, and more. She lives in Beacon, New York.