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Watch out: Two poisonous plants seen in Sussex County

Poison Hemlock can look very similar to another invasive plant, Queen-Anne's Lace

Be careful in Sussex County this summer, two varieties of invasive poisonous plants have been spotted throughout the county.


Poison Hemlock and Spotted Water Hemlock have been found in Delaware before, but officials say they're finding it more frequently this year.


The plants can cause rashes if touched, and if any particles inhaled or ingested can lead to death.


Todd Davis from the Delaware Department of Agriculture says the invasive plants can be very dangerous for humans and animals.


“Just seem to be seeing more of it this year and the more we dig into it the more we look at the poisonous factor," Davis said. "Any ingestion of these two plants can be lethal — no real cures for it if it were to happen.”


Davis says many people mistake these plants for the edible Queen-Anne's Lace, and he’s noticed some hemlock flowers have been cut off.


“I’m assuming it's a human because it’s so high up that they’re doing it for flower arrangements," he said. "And we’d advise against that because even though you’re not ingesting it it could give a rash with just touching the plant.”


He says the plants look different when examined closely, but bear many similarities to Queen-Anne’s Lace, such as the flower structure.


The DDA says look out for these signs the plant could be one one of the two varieties of Hemlock:


Poisonous Hemlock: Grows six to eight feet tall, the stems are hairless and have purple blotches, Leaves are alternate, dark glossy green, fern-like, triangular, lacey with veins running through the tips of the leaf serrations.


Spotted Water Hemlock: Grows up to six feet tall, The stems can vary in color from solid green or purple to green with purple spots or stripes. The leaves are lacey and fern-like, with veins ending at the base of the notch of the leaf edge.

Credit Delaware Department of Agriculture
Poison Hemlock has distinctive purple spots on it's stem


Spotted Water Hemlock is native to North America, but Poisonous Hemlock is invasive, coming from Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia in the 1800’s as an ornamental garden plant.


Davis says the plants have been seen in at least three locations this summer, mostly in southern Sussex County. They bloom through August and enjoy wetland areas and wet places like ditches, pastures, or the edge of fields.


If you think you find one of these plants, Davis says avoid touching or trying to remove it, take a picture and email it to for identification.


Additionally, the department maintains a list of licensed aquatic pest control companies that remove the Hemlock and treat the area.


Even mowing or cutting them can release toxic particles into the air.


Removal is important because animals can die if they eat the plant and there is no known cure. Clinical signs in livestock can appear as early as 15 minutes after ingestion. 


If someone is believed to have ingested the plant, or inhaled the particles after cutting or mowing it, the department says to contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222 or 911.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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