Queen Anne’s Lace Vs. Poison Hemlock: Poison or Not?

At this time of year, you can see lots of lacy white flowers growing on the side of the road. It’s Queen Anne’s lace! Or is it? It turns out Queen Anne’s lace has a lot of lookalikes — and some of them are poisonous. Sometimes paying attention to little details can save your life.

Queen Anne's lace like this can often be confused with similar-looking poison hemlock. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Queen Anne’s lace mimics include poison hemlock, cow parsnip, wild parsnip, giant hogweed and yarrow. Today we’re going to focus on the difference between Queen Anne’s lace and poison hemlock. The reason they are so difficult to tell apart is because they are related. They are both in the Apiaceae, or carrot, family. In fact, Queen Anne’s lace is also known as wild carrot.

 

Words to know


Mimic: To imitate or copy.

Prong: A projecting part or point.

 

This is what leads to all the trouble. You can dig up Queen Anne’s lace and eat the carroty roots in springtime, when they are young and tender. The leaves are delicious in salads, just like carrot tops you buy in the store. But poison hemlock is, well, poison. It won’t cause any problems if you just touch it, but it is toxic if you swallow the stuff. There are ways to tell these two plants apart. You just need to look closely and pay attention to details.

Before we go any further, though, we have an important warning: Never eat anything from nature unless you are 100% sure of what it is and that it is safe to eat. What if you are 90% sure? No, you don’t eat it! How about 99%? Still no! Now raise your hand and promise to only eat what you know is 100% safe. And always ask your parents or a responsible adult if it’s OK.

Flowers


Can you see the purple flower in the Queen Anne’s lace and the rounded shape of poison hemlock? (Photos via Shutterstock)

Flowers in the carrot family have an umbel shape. They kind of look like an umbrella. However, Queen Anne’s lace has a tiny purple flower in the center that you might miss if you don’t look closely.

The story goes that Queen Anne pricked her finger while making lace. A single drop of blood fell in the center that you can see today in the flower. Poison hemlock does not have any purple in the flower.

Queen Anne’s lace has more of a flat-topped flower, while poison hemlock’s blooms are rounded.

Stems

Notice the smooth stem and leaves with purple blotching on the poison hemlock stem. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Poison hemlock’s stem is smooth and often has purple blotches. Look for fine hairs or fuzz on the stem of Queen Anne’s lace. Remember it this way: Queen Anne was just a hairy lady who didn’t like to shave!

Leaves


Like the stems, the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace have fuzz, while poison hemlock leaves are smooth.

Bracts


Bracts are modified leaves that show up at the base of the flower. Queen Anne’s lace has three-pronged bracts, and this flower is the only one in the carrot family to have them. They kind of look like a crown around the flower, which is fitting for a queen.

Nests

Notice the flat flower, bracts underneath and seed "nests" on this Queen Anne's lace. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Queen Anne’s lace is sometimes called bird’s nest, because as the flowers ripen into seeds, the stems curl upwards and create a cup-shaped nest. Poison hemlock does not do this.

Go outside and start to pay attention to these details. Do you see the purple flower or the fuzzy stem or the nest? Start adding up the details to identify your plant! Now you can go forth and confidently tell the difference between Queen Anne’s lace and poison hemlock.

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