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Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

This plant is often referred to as the most violently toxic plant in North America. But what is it and why is it so toxic? Let's look at the science and find out for ourselves!

Description and Behavior

This is a short-lived plant that can grow as tall as 6 feet. Their stems can be a pale green, a reddish-purple, or may even be a pinkish color. Their tops can have 12-15 small white flowers that are extremely close to each other. These clusters of flowers also make it look similar to carrot plants, which can be further confusing for inexperienced humans and herbivorous animals.

Due to how similar this plant is, it is often mistaken for parsnips. This is often considered a fatal mistake, as upon ingestion the consumer experiences violent and painful convulsions. They also suffer from nausea, severe cramps, projectile vomiting, potential damage to the nervous system, and even retrograde amnesia.

This poison is so strong that it can kill a cow in just 15 minutes. This is one of the reasons it is also referred to as "cowsbane."This toxic effect is due to cicutoxin, which is an unsaturated aliphatic alcohol which is mostly concentrated in the plant's roots.

Habitat and Location

This plant can be found all across North America, from Mexico, through the entire United States, and even in most parts of Canada. They prefer moist areas, such as marshes, swamps, prairies, seeps, roadside ditches, and more.

That being said, this plant is really good to have in a home garden, or otherwise good to be around due to the fact that it helps a wide variety of pollinators. So long as you do not try to eat it you should be OK with having this plant around.

You can find out more about this deadly plant by watching this kinda corny video on the topic.

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