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The dry conditions have led to an increasing number of inquiries about water hemlock. Water hemlock is the most poisonous plant in Canada, however, it is often confused with the more common and non-toxic water parsnip. These plants are closely related, have a similar appearance and grow in the same type of habitat. They have clusters of small white flowers arranged like an "umbrella." Both plants are fairly large, growing up to several feet tall. Water hemlock and water parsnip both grow in moist areas near stream banks, sloughs and other wet places, they can even be found growing together in the same areas. With all these similarities it is no wonder the two plants are often confused. However, correct identification is important to informing future management and preventing toxicity.
A closer look at the plant leaves is the best way to tell the two species apart.
Other subtler differences include the presence of small bracts below the flower cluster in water parsnip and the swollen base of water hemlock. A toxic, oily substance is produced in this part of the plant and can often be seen when water hemlock is dissected - this is the most poisonous part of the plant. The roots from a single plant is enough to kill a cow. Water hemlock is also poisonous to humans, so appropriate precautions need to be taken when handling these plants.
More information on management of water hemlock is available in Crop Production News.
Or contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 to speak with your nearest range management extension specialist.
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