Drive along virtually any major highway in our area and you’ll probably see sections of white flowers, but what you’re actually looking at is an invasive plant species in peak bloom.
Poison hemlock is an emerging threat in southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania. The plant can grow as tall as eight feet, and if ingested by people or animals, it can be deadly.
“All parts of the plant are poisonous, that includes the stems, the leaves, roots, flowers, seeds,” said Ryan Reed, a natural resource specialist for DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.
Reed says poison hemlock seems to be spreading by way of the highway.
“We want people to be aware of what it is, where it is, when you can see it flowering, when it’s in its most high profile form, which is right now,” Reed said.
Sap from the plant can give you a rash similar to poison ivy, and as the name suggests, poison hemlock can kill you if it’s eaten.
“We are probably in peak season for cutting hay,” Reed said. “Farmers need to worry about finding that in the hay.”
Reed says using herbicides or pulling the plant by hand can eradicate poison hemlock, but each plant can produce 30,000 seeds per year.
You should definitely protect yourself. Wear long clothes. Wear gardening gloves,” Reed said. “And, of course, try not to touch the outsides of those things as you’re taking them off, and launder as appropriate.”
DCNR does have a rapid response team that eradicates invasive species wherever they’re found on state forest lands, but despite their best efforts, Reed expects poison hemlock to continue spreading throughout the rest of the state.
We’re told while they don’t foresee ever eradicating the species, PennDOT does spend $12,000 to $15,000 a year per county to treat poison hemlock along state roads.
According to the united states department of agriculture this plant generally grows in saturated areas like irrigation ditches and fence lines. Signs that someone may have ingested the plant include dilated eyes, respiratory distress, or lack of coordination. If someone you know ingested the plant they should seek medical attention or contact poison control.
Here in the twin tiers, around twenty cases of the poisonous flower were reported. But remember, you can expect to see these growing along the interstates in Pennsylvania, so don’t be alarmed.
More information on this plant can be found here.