How to get rid of ‘dangerous’ poison hemlock from gardens quickly – ‘can be fatal!’

How to get rid of ‘dangerous’ poison hemlock from gardens quickly – ‘can be fatal!’

Published May 27, 2022
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Officially named Conium maculatum and also known as California fern, this wildflower is often spotted along riverbanks and roadsides from spring to summer. With its pretty white blooms, it is commonly mistaken for cow parsley. But don’t be deceived by its delicate appearance – poison hemlock is infamous for its toxicity.

The flower experts at abcFlora explained that when touched, this plant can “burn the skin”.

They said: “This dangerous, invasive plant species can be fatal if even small amounts are ingested, triggering lung paralysis and even burning the skin if touched.”

So, for those looking into how to get rid of weeds, this one should be top of the list.

For wildlife gardens, herbicides are generally a no-go. 

Luckily, gardeners can tackle poison hemlock without reaching for the weed killer, particularly if they only have a small infestation to deal with.

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As the experts at abcFlora say, gardeners can simply uproot the plant using a fork or spade. 

Make sure you’re wearing protective clothing when doing so, including gloves and a face mask. 

Try to remove the entire taproot to stop the plant from regrowing, but avoid disturbing the ground too much, which can encourage further germination of seeds.

Immediately bag up the debris for disposal. 

Do not be tempted to burn poison hemlock – doing so will release its toxins into the air which is a health hazard. 

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The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program suggests routinely mowing the young plants down before they have produced flowers as an alternative method to digging them up. 

This prevents seed production, and depletes the plants’ energy reserves which can eventually lead to them dying. 

However, some experts, including Healthline, warn that this method can release harmful toxins into the air. 

So, proceed with caution and, as always with tackling this weed, wear protective clothing.

For quicker results or larger infestations, a herbicide such as 2,4-D, triclopyr, or glyphosate may be the best approach.

Follow application instructions carefully on your chosen product. They tend to be most effective when applied to young plants.

Remember that glyphosate is non-selective. So, be careful not to get it on any of your other plants or lawn, as it can damage them, too. Apply it to poison hemlock before it starts to bolt.

Similar to cow parsley and also giant hogweed – another toxic plant – poison hemlock has small white flowers in umbrella-like clusters. These appear in the plant’s second year of growth.

The flower experts advised: “To avoid mistaking cow parsley for poison hemlock, look to the leaves and stalk.”

“Poison hemlock leaves are more feathered in appearance with a waxier texture, while the stalk will have distinctive purple splotches.”

The foliage also helps set it apart from giant hogweed, which has larger, more jagged leaves. 

Height-wise, this plant can grow to 6ft and closer to 10ft in fertile soils. Giant hogweed tends to grow even higher – up to around 16.5ft (5m).

Another way to identify poison hemlock is by its smell (but don’t get too close). 

The Wildlife Trusts explained that the foliage and stems have a distinctive, unpleasant, mousy aroma.

As there is no known antidote to hemlock poisoning, the experts at abcFlora said: “It’s vital to remove these unfriendly plants in a safe and efficient manner.”

All parts of the plant are toxic and ingesting even small amounts can be fatal. 

Even touching the plants can lead to adverse reactions, which is why it’s so important to wear gloves when removing them.