Poison Hemlock is spreading fast across the country. Organic land advocates have warned that over use of synthetic fertilizers, weed killers and other chemicals to control weeds will in fact cause an epidemic of toxic weeds and even herbicide resistance in very toxic plants.

Conium maculatum

Other names include: Spotted Hemlock, Conium Maculata, California Fern, Nebraska Fern, Carrot Weed, Cicuta, Ciguë, Ciguë d’Athènes, Ciguë Officinale, Ciguë de Socrate, Ciguë Tachetée, Conium, Conium maculatum, Grande Ciguë, Mort aux Oies, Poison Fool’s Parsley, Poison-Hemlock, Tsuga, Vicaire, Wild Carrot.

Dorostkar Park in Reno Nv Closed because of Storm Damage and Poison Hemlock Infestation (view verified facts on Department of Agriculture Website here)

Large areas of The Truckee River and across the nation, are now over run with Poison Hemlock. This plant can kill a sensitive child or adult, simply by breathing in the toxic fumes or brushing up against sweaty skin.  The hotter the plants are, the higher level of toxicity. All parts of this plant are deadly. Eating a small leaf of this plant will kill an adult within 3 hours. There are no known antidotes for this poison.

Truckee River
Washoe County has simply placed two small warning signs at either side of the trail warning that the park is closed because of storm damage and Poison Hemlock.

If a child picked a flower for their mom, the child could die within 1 to 3 hours.

Dr. Cathleen Clancy, associate medical director at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., said that across the United States last year, there were 63,000 cases of exposure to poisonous plants. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pretty-poison-plants-to-die-for/

cite image source: https://dengarden.com/gardening/How-to-Identify-Queen-Annes-Lace-Wild-Carrot

Throughout history, children who created handmade flutes out of the dry, dead stalks of this plant have been killed. The poison lasts on the plant, even after death for up to 3 years. Spraying these toxic plants with pesticides may kill some of the plants, but the toxins on the seeds, stalks, root and leaves will remain in the area, along with the added herbicide exposures for up to 3 years.  Who would want to walk their dogs or allow their children to walk along that path? Picking up rocks, sticks and debris left over?

mage source: https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=53325

These hemlocks are well over 7 feet tall and are in various locations all along the river. Not just in the area with the warning signs. These plants are toxic to humans, wildlife and livestock. The only animal that can eat the Poison Hemlock is the goat.

“Goats eat all poisonous plants, which does not seem to bother them. They have an interesting array of enzymes in their gut that other animals do not. In the case of poison hemlock and other poisonous plants, goats have an enzyme in the saliva that detoxifies the toxin before they swallow.” Lani Mahlberg with Ewe4ic Ecological Services | Phone: (970) 219-0451 Email: 

Goats saliva detoxify poisonous parts of the plant and seeds before swallowing: https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/weeds/publications/Goat_weed_management.pdf

Lani has been herding goats on fields with toxic plants for over 30 years.

Idaho Department of Transportation regularly works with goats to manage toxic weeds with great success. A herd of about 100 rented goats was turned loose into a  fenced area around a retention pond on Eagle Road in mid-May, just north of Chinden Boulevard. They spent two days munching on noxious weeds including white top, Scotch thistle and poison hemlock. And unlike either herbicides or mowing, the goats didn’t leave dry plant material behind that can fuel wildfires.

View growing list of goat herders who manage toxic weeds, like Poison Hemlock successfully.

Washoe County Parks, should have already started the process of removing these highly toxic plants. Now most are already flowering. Did you know that it takes Poison Hemlock 2 years before it will flower?

Those weeds should have been removed long before they were allowed to become such a threat to our community. Hand pulling a few small weeds could be safe, if the persons removing the weeds were not sensitive to the toxins.

Even if the weeds were treated with extremely toxic pesticides, the flower stalks, when dried, drop seeds that will germinate again and again. The seeds that are in the soil now, along with the plant material will have poisonous effects for several years after they have been sprayed with herbicides. Leaving the plant parts in the area is asking for serious repercussions.

Poison Hemlock could take over all the areas along the river, making a simple stroll along the river a life-threatening situation for the citizens of Washoe County.

Pesticide use to control this plant will only work temporarily and will kill the thriving eco-system along the river. Many species will suffer as a result. I would like news coverage on this pressing issue to help protect the families that frequent the trails along the river. 

Washoe County has worked with goats in the past to manage weeds. They need to get on this ASAP as time is of the essence. Cities and counties all over the US use Cashmere Goats to eat poisonous plants with no ill affects. Goats are at the cornerstone of organic land management practices. There is lots of false information being shared online about the dangers of Poison Hemlock and how goats will die if they eat a small amount of this plant. However, several goat herders around the world have positive experiences that span decades of real world experience and knowledge that say otherwise.

source: http://www.seviernewsmessenger.com/2015/05/07/poison-hemlock-identification/

Poison hemlock is one of the most toxic plants in North America and all parts of the plant are toxic.

Remove Deadly Poison Hemlock with Extreme Caution

To prevent contact poisoning, wear gloves, eye protection, a mask, and other protective clothing when removing poison-hemlock and surrounding soil. Never burn poison-hemlock, as the smoke can trigger asthma, and don’t leave plants where children or livestock might get them since the dried plants are just as poisonous. Never compost the plants, but put them in plastic bags and throw them in the trash.

Remove small patches by digging, making sure to remove the taproot. Don’t mow or cut plants as they will only re-sprout, and the cut plants can release toxic fumes. Don’t apply herbicides to mature plants because they will still set seed before they die. Goats are the safest way to effectively remove these deadly plants. Goats can also repair the damage done to the soil by chemicals, floods and construction work. The hooves of the goats help to till in the natural fertilizer from the animal. Goats can have native seed pouches around their necks that sow native plant seeds into the bare earth.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the weeds They’re not weeds, they’re food for pollinators

by Alison Gowans with The Gazette

I am an advocate for pollinators and love most weeds as they are often the best medicines for native and honey bee populations. Poison Hemlock is way too dangerous to allow to get out of hand. I am afraid this is now the case along the Truckee River. We need all the resources available to slow this plant from turning Truckee River into a toxic wasteland.

Identify Poison Hemlock

  • Fern like leaves
  • Red to purple spots, streaks and bruise like markings on the stem. Usually closer to the base of the plant.
  • Smells of mouse urine.
  • Skin and eyes will start a burning sensation within 20 minutes of exposure.
  • Some plants will have white flowers.

Poison Hemlock Photos



SI Exif

Poison Hemlock is found throughout the Carson River watershed as well: http://truckeeriverguide.org/species/poison-hemlock/

plant medicines and uses

Please call Washoe Parks and ask them to NOT USE PESTICIDES, but hire a goat herder (not all goat herders a have the training and / or experience to manage goats and poison hemlock weeds) to eat the poisonous weeds and re seed the area with native plants and seeds to prevent more toxic weeds from growing.

*Remind them that pesticides may kill some of the plants, but the dead Poison Hemlock stems, leaves and seeds are still highly toxic for up 3 years.

UPDATE: Washoe County issued an update and press release stating they will use mechanical means. Although this is part of the solution, they need to completely remove the plant parts from the park and replant with natural soil, compost and native plants or the Poison Hemlock seeds that were allowed to germinate will re sprout immediately. 

Park Operations Superintendent

Colleen Wallace Barnum
(775) 328-2181
3101 Longley Lane, Reno 89502

Daves Garden Has an interesting article on Poison Hemlock and other highly toxic plants…

Saps and juices cause painful irritation and sometimes permanent damage, especially if the substance gets into the eyes. These same plants can cause poisoning if burned, since the chemical is released in the smoke and enters mucous membranes and lungs. source

Why is Poison Hemlock Growing in Reno?

All weeds have their purpose and place.  Bare soil is an open invitation for pioneer weed seeds to take root. Weeds are the symptoms of an eco system in need of repair. What causes this need for weeds? A number of factors can be at play, but a vast majority that cause the need for weeds to grow are:

  1. Pesticide use (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, adulticides, slimeicides…) Pesticides kill life. This includes the billions and trillions of small living organisms that are in the soil. Bacteria works to keep the whole eco-system thriving. Using a chemical to kill one set of insects or weeds, will damage trillions of life saving organisms in the soil.
  2. Compaction – Construction work often includes large tractors and trucks that damage the surface of the land. Compacting the soil into hard packed earth. Weeds like dandelions come in to loosen up the soil. Also their long tap roots pull up healing nutrients and minerals beneath the surface, up to the top layers of the compacted soil. Over time, other weeds will come into this area to perform the same duties. Once the weeds drop leaves and other bio mass, the area, over time is restored back to a healthy eco-system. This process can take many years. A way to speed up this life cycle is to bring in certified organic soil and compost, water then plant with only native plants and seeds.
  3. Flood, Fire, Drought and Storms stir up the environment and cause this healing process to begin.   Poison Hemlock is often the first set of weeds that will come into an area with moisture.
  4. Use of fake fertilizers or synthetic fertilizers.  Examples are Ammonium NitrateAmmonium PhosphateSuperphosphate, and Potassium Sulfate. Plants require 13 nutrients. Learn more on how to spot safe, natural fertilizers versus toxic synthetic fertilizers here.

Poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, a member of the plant family Apiaceae, which includes a few important vegetable crops such as carrots, celery, and parsnip, and herbs such as parsley, cilantro, chervil, fennel, anise, dill, and caraway.

Although cases of human poisoning are comparatively rare and are generally associated with children using the hollow stems as flutes or adults mistakenly confusing poison hemlock with an edible plant such as parsley, parsnip, or anise. Sensitive people may experience contact dermatitis when handling this plant.

poison hemlock rashes

Poison Hemlock Rash

Poison Hemlock information.

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