• The Banes of Spring

With so many beautiful plants showing off as we traipse through springtime landscapes, it’s hard to believe any of them could do harm. But be warned: there are banes of spring.

Bane, as in the word derived from the Old English word meaning “killer, slayer, or murderer” (and that word was derived from the Proto-Germanic word for “wound”). During the Middle Ages, it was applied to plants that cause serious harm – even death. Some include Henbane and Wolfsbane, but another harmful plant of spring is Hemlock. Not to be confused with the conifer tree by the same name, Hemlock is a biannual plant that closely resembles wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

I was reminded of this plant by being quite surprised at its appearance in my back yard yesterday. Nothing like seeing a poisonous plant in the yard to wake you up!

Hemlock 1 Hemlock 2

They were still pretty young, so it’s hard to be 100 percent sure that it is Hemlock, but it lacked the hairy stems that wild carrot is supposed to have. According to a site about wild carrot, the leaves look more like hemlock. (To learn more about identifying this plant, check here and here.) Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to plants like these, especially if you have pets or young children who might accidentally ingest some of the plant. So consider pulling it out – roots and all – and wear gloves, as Hemlock is toxic even through contact with the skin!

Hemlock 3

One of the reasons I was so quick to pull it out (I did it as soon as I spotted them) was because I have an elderly dog that had been exhibiting a few symptoms that a mild Hemlock poisoning could explain. Dogs who eat it may exhibit symptoms such as salivation; diarrhea; neurological signs like muscle tremors or weakness, convulsions, or coma; and respiratory distress. Get to a vet soon – if the animal ate enough, death can occur in the matter of hours.

People exhibit similar symptoms: nausea and vomiting, salivation, dilated pupils, headache, altered mental status, seizures, weakness, respiratory failure, and more.

When you enjoy the outdoors, it’s always a good idea to learn a bit about native plants to avoid as well as those that are helpful. With a little knowledge, nature is a safe and wonderful escape from our noisy modern world.