Local Poisonous Plants class was tonight. I’ve always had a fascination with these plants…beautiful to look at but devastating effects if accidentally ingested. One of the plants you missed if you weren’t here is Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). Photos are from the water ditch behind my friend’s house near Durango.

Water Hemlock is lovely to look at. It’s also the deadliest plant in North America; though in the same family as carrots, parsley and Osha. All parts of the plant are toxic, but especially the root and seeds. Cicutoxin, an alcohol and the main toxin, screws up nervous system function. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, sweating, frothing at the mouth, dilated pupils, rapid heart rate, violent convulsions, and respiratory failure. Case fatality rate is 30%.

People have mistakenly ingested this plant thinking it was something else. 2 brothers in Maine though it was American Ginseng. One ate 3 bites of the root and died three hours later at the ER. The other brother took one bite and survived. The root is reportedly sweetish in taste…not everything that’s toxic tastes nasty. Note that cicutoxin can be absorbed through the skin, so if clearing this from, say, your irrigation ditch, wear gloves.


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