Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is a familiar flower in fields and along roadsides in summer.
...the distinctive flat flower-top of Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) looks beautiful in the field...or in a vase!
I think I need to back up a bit to start this story, so let's go back to June. Lots of things went on during that month...vacation, day trips, work, school, and finally our week in Shawnee, and I was hardly home, but that didn't stop all the plants and weeds in my garden from growing! Finally, July came along, and I had time to check out the yard. I always let Queen Anne’s Lace grow along the stony path and hillside that leads from our driveway to the back yard, so I’m used to seeing it there, but as I looked out the back window, I could see we had a new clump of it under the big Ash Tree beside the pool…and it was huge! The height and new location of the plant made me suspicious, so I decided to check it out. As I grew closer to the plant, I could tell the blooms were similar, but the plant was definitely not Queen Anne's Lace, so I was not surprised when I saw purple spots and blotches up and down the thick stem. I immediately went back inside and got Matty because I wanted him to see the plant. “Do you remember what was put in Socrates' drink to kill him?” I asked Matty.
“Poison Hemlock,” he said.
Pointing at the plant, I said, “That’s Poison Hemlock. The same plant that killed Socrates. So don’t eat any of it! For that matter, don’t touch it without gloves either!”
…angelic enough looking, the dainty white flowers of Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) resemble the blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace...but watch out because these flowers are deadly!
...a fly clings to the beautiful Poison Hemlock blossoms. Like Queen Anne's Lace, Poison Hemlock was introduced from Europe, but unlike Queen Anne's Lace, which was brought over for medicinal uses (and later became the genetic base of our modern-day carrot), Poison Hemlock was introduced later in the 1880s as an ornamental.
Matty asked how he could tell the two plants apart. I told him the quickest way was to look at the stem. Queen Anne’s Lace has a fuzzy stem, while Poison Hemlock has a smooth stem. Poison Hemlock usually has purple spots on it too. We started talking, and I said there should be a rhyme to help tell the two plants apart like the “Leaves of three; let it be” warning for Poison Ivy, and without skipping a beat, Matty came out with, “Fuzzy like a face, Queen Ann’s Lace; smooth with purple spots, cemetery plots!!” I laughed!
The leaves of both plants look similar too, resembling carrot tops:
…leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace.
…another difference...when crushed, the leaves of Poison Hemlock do not smell very good!
We also have a native hemlock plant in our area, Water Hemlock (Circuta maculata). It looks a lot like Poison Hemlock but doesn't have the fernlike leaves. I don't have a photo of Water Hemlock. I've seen it growing at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve in Urbana, Ohio, but haven't actively looked for it around here. As its name implies, Water Hemlock likes to grow around ponds and lake, streams, and wet ditches. It's also deadly...