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Water hemlock leaves

Water hemlock leaves

Water hemlock leaves

Cicuta spp. are perennial plants that are all similar in morphology, growing up to a maximum of 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) in height. The stem of the plant is branching, erect, smooth and hollow (except for partitions at the junction of the leaves and stem), sometimes being purple-striped, or mottled (typically only C. maculata has the purple stripes or spots). Attached to the base of the stem is a tuberous root with thickened rootstocks. The rootstocks are multichambered and contain a yellowish oily liquid which turns reddish brown on exposure to air and emits a characteristic smell of raw parsnip. The alternate leaves are 2 or 3 pinnately compound and may reach 30 centimeters (12 in) to 90 centimeters (35 in) in length. The leaflets are lanceolate, serrate, 5 centimeters (2.0 in) to 10 centimeters (3.9 in) in length, and sharply toothed. The plant flowers in spring or early summer; the flowers are small with green or white petals clustered in an umbrella shape (umbel) characteristic to this family; the umbel measures 5 centimeters (2.0 in) to 10 centimeters (3.9 in) across. The plants produce a cylindrical fruit which is 4 millimeters (0.16 in) to 6 millimeters (0.24 in) in length.

PLANT

Spotted or poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is the “hemlock” that knocked off the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Its relative, water hemlock (Cicuta maculata or Cicuta douglasii) does not occur in southern Europe but could have been pressed into duty. Ethnobotanist H.D. Harrington once wrote that Water hemlock “has gained the reputation as being the most poisonous plant in the North Temperate Zone.” Its toxin, called cicutoxin, can cause delirium, nausea, convulsions, abdominal pain, seizures, and vomiting within 60 minutes of ingestion – frequently leading to death.

Taxonomists sometimes recognize two species of water hemlock in North America. Cicuta maculata (spotted water hemlock) in the strict sense occurs over most of North America but is replaced by Cicuta douglasii (western water hemlock) in the northwestern United States and western Canada. Both species are similar in having umbels of small white flowers borne on tall stems (up to 6 feet in height) above once to thrice pinnately compound, fern-like leaves. The leaflets of Cicuta can be distinguished from similar, non-toxic species in the parsley family (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae) by having veins that fork at their tips, with one branch ending at the tip of the leaflet and the other in the V-shaped sinus between adjacent leaflet lobes. All parts of water hemlock are toxic, but the poison is especially virulent from the roots. The lower stem and upper roots of Cicuta contain numerous internal partitions or air spaces that can be revealed if sliced lengthwise. Would-be natural food gourmands are well advised to avoid parsley-like plants with this combination of leaflet and root characteristics. Cicuta, commonly known as water hemlock, is a genus of four species of highly poisonous plants in the family Apiaceae. They are perennial herbaceous plants which grow up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) tall, having distinctive small green or white flowers arranged in an umbrella shape (umbel). Plants in this genus may also be referred to as cowbane or poison parsnip. Cicuta is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, mainly North America and Europe, typically growing in wet meadows, along streambanks and other wet and marshy areas. These plants bear a close resemblance to other members in the family Apiaceae and may be confused with a number of edible or poisonous plants. The common name hemlock may also be confused with poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), or with the Hemlock tree. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

 

 

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