lady bug dancing
among the ferny green leaves
of poison hemlock
We've had a proliferation of poison ivy this spring, and now the wild members of the parsley family, Apiaceae, are blooming in profusion along roadsides and creek banks -- wild carrot, wild parsnip, wild chervil and their dangerous cousin, poison hemlock. Contact with poison ivy can cause a skin rash, but poison hemlock contains a neurotoxin that causes paralysis and death when ingested even in small amounts by people or livestock.
I have been seeing lots of plants that appear to be poison hemlock all along the highway, especially near moist areas, and even in town. Today I decide to check to make sure it's poison hemlock I'm seeing and not wild chervil, a close look-alike. I find a group of these tall plants, some twice my height, with clusters of lacy white blossoms and lush foliage, growing on either side of the bridge over our creek. They are rubbing shoulders with their cousins, wild carrot and wild parsnip, as well as wild elderberry. One tall plant is growing right up through the middle of an elderberry shrub. Elderberry flowers are also white and grow in large clusters, but the leaves are pinnate, with many leaflets with serrated margins, and the bark of this deciduous shrub is gray.
I'm surprised to discover a number of ladybugs crawling rapidly all over this poisonous plant. Apparently they are not affected by the toxins, but what's the attraction?
The white flowers are already starting to turn to green seeds. Poison hemlock is a biennial that reproduces solely from seeds. It produces a ferny rosette the first year and tall flowering stems the second year, from May to August, followed by green, ridged seed capsules that turn brown when the seeds mature, much like wild parsnip.