Poison Hemlock blooming in Illinois, posing health threats

MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) — Summer is a great season to be outside. However, there is a type of plant that you have to keep an eye out for, since it can pose a serious threat to your health.

A Monticello man was exposed to Poison Hemlock and three weeks later, he is still recovering from the painful effects it left on his body.


“We had a couple of them (Poison Hemlock) in the fields last year,” said Michael Leary. “And this year, it’s everywhere.”

“It’s in patches all over town,” he said.

Leary was using a mower when he was exposed to Poison Hemlock.

“It’s the combination of mowing, knocking it down, cutting it and having the wind blowing,” he said. “It was definitely a combination of inhalation and skin exposure.”

Leary said he did not experience an immediate reaction but the day after he was exposed, he started seeing spots on the top of his feet. Then, it quickly spread across his body.

Leary went to Urgent Care and then to see his doctor but nothing they gave him worked. A couple of days later, Leary and his family began to suspect the plants he was exposed to. He did not know the plants were Poison Hemlock. 

“Every single piece of the plant is toxic. It can be lethal,” Leary said.

Leary also said he had photodermatitis so the sunlight aggravated the effects of Poison Hemlock and caused blisters and rashes on his skin.

He said the poison from the plants affected his cognitive thinking as well.

“I had several days where I had to think really hard on how to put words together to make a sentence.”

“Physically, it weakened my body, weakened my muscles. I had bruises all over my feet, my legs, my arms and my chest,” Leary added.

According to the University of Illinois Extension Educator Ryan Pankau, Poison Hemlock is a carrot family member with “sinister habits.”

He said its plant parts are highly toxic. Ingestion of even small amounts can result in death. 

Pankau said Poison Hemlock looks a lot like Queen Ann’s Lace, which is known as ‘wild carrot.’ It is because both plants have abundant clusters of white flowers at the tips of tall stems. The difference, according to Pankau, is the fact that Poison Hemlock is flowering now, while wild carrot flowers closer to mid-summer. 

Pankau also stated, “Poison Hemlock can be easily recognized by its smooth, purple-spotted hollow stems and pungent odor when leaves are crushed. Whereas wild carrot’s crushed leaves have an odor similar to carrot and its stems are hairy, green and not hollow.”

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