Water hemlock – Cicuta maculata
Water hemlock is one of the most toxic plants known to man. All parts are extremely poisonous. It is closely related to the hemlock used to execute Socrates. Water hemlock is usually a large, highly branched plant growing to 8 feet tall in wet meadows, swamps, and shoreline thickets. However, they can be medium-sized, scraggly plants growing in floating mats of vegetation. Water hemlock occurs throughout Florida and flowers in the spring and summer. Water hemlock grows large, dome-shaped umbels of flowers. An umbel is made of many small flowers that are all attached, more or less at the same point. The flowers are tiny, white, and have 5 petals. The flower umbels are in long stalks that grow from leaf axels at the tips of the stems. Water hemlock leaves are large and double- or triple-compound. A triple-compound leaf has leaflets that make up larger leaflets, that make up even larger leaflets, that make up an entire large leaf. These compound leaves are often a foot or more long and 2 feet wide. These compound leaves are alternately arranged on the stem. The leaflets of water hemlock are lance-shaped and have coarse teeth around their margins. The stem is fleshy and hollow. It usually has purple stripes. Many species of aquatic plants have large clusters of white flowers. Some of these plants are considered edible. However, some, such as the water hemlock, are extremely toxic to humans and animals, and do cause death. Because these plants are easily confused, it is best to avoid all aquatic plants that have large clusters of white flowers.
Water hemlock is
- large, highly-branched, with hollow stems
- large umbels of small white flowers
- large double or triple compound leaves
WARNING – EXTREMELY TOXIC