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Beware the Backyard Menace: Poison Hemlock is Spreading in Ohio

If you thought your biggest backyard worry was dandelions, think again. Poison hemlock, the notorious plant allegedly used to execute many, including philosopher Socrates, is spreading across Ohio, and it’s more common than you might think.

This highly toxic plant, part of the carrot family, poses a serious risk to both humans and animals if ingested. Originally brought to Ohio in the mid-1850s as an ornamental plant, poison hemlock has since become an unwelcome invader.

Unfortunately, it grows in every state except Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, and Mississippi. You’re most likely to find poison hemlock along fence lines and irrigation ditches and it prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Poison hemlock is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete its lifecycle.

poison hemlock
It features fern-like leaves and clusters of small white flowers that bloom between June and August. This plant can grow to an impressive height of up to 10 feet, but more commonly reaches six to eight feet tall.

In Ohio, poison hemlock is most abundant in the western part of the state, but it has now spread to all 88 counties. Its resemblance to harmless plants like parsley or wild carrot makes it especially dangerous. All parts of the plant are poisonous, so ingesting any part of it can be fatal.

Eating poison hemlock can severely affect your nervous system and heart.

While it’s usually only toxic if ingested, contact with the sap can also pose risks. If you’re cutting it and the sap gets into your eyes or an open wound, you can have a reaction. Chopping it down or mowing through it can also release the sap into the air, which can be inhaled.

If you suspect that you or someone else has ingested poison hemlock, immediate medical attention is crucial. Symptoms of hemlock poisoning can appear almost immediately and include sweating, vomiting, dilated pupils, dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, and more. Severe cases can lead to muscle paralysis, kidney failure, and even death.

Here in Ohio, it’s required of property owners to remove poison hemlock.

poison hemlock
I know it seems intimidating, but there are methods at your disposal. First, you’ve got to protect yourself while working. Wear gloves and long sleeves, and thrown on a pair of safety goggles. You’ll need to get the whole plant out of the ground, including the root. Once you do that, pop it in a plastic trash bag and toss it in the dumpster. If you’ve got a bigger bloom on your hands, look into herbicides.

Keep an eye on your backyard and make sure to educate yourself about this dangerous plant. A little caution and proactive effort can go a long way in keeping you, your family, and your pets safe from poison hemlock.