Scientific Name: Daucus carota & Conium maculatum
Common Name(s): Daucos carota – Wild Carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace, Birds Nest, Bishop’s Lace|Conium maculatum – Poison Hemlock, Wild Hemlock, Hemlock
Both wild carrot and hemlock are in the family Apiaceae commonly known as the carrot family which is the 16th largest family of flowering plants with 434 genera and 3,700 species. Species in this family are annuals, biennials, and perennial herbs such as celery, carrot, and parsley. All species in this family have flowers that aggregate in a terminal umbel or resembling an umbrella. An umbel is a number of short-stalked flowers that originate from a common point like an umbrella.
Both hemlock and wild carrot are biennial plants which means they complete their growth in two growing seasons. The first spring, they are a cluster of leaves close to the ground. The second year, they produce their tall stalks and flowers. The most defining difference between hemlock and wild carrot is their size and stem morphology. During their second year of growth, hemlock grows significantly taller than wild carrot reaching heights of 5 to 8 feet (sometimes up to 12 feet) while wild carrot reaches heights of 1 to 4 feet. When they are in their first year of growth, they are similar in size, but hemlock has a hollow stem with purple streaks near the base and spotted throughout (Pictures 1b). Conversely, wild carrot has a solid stem, with hairs throughout, and a solid green color throughout the length (Picture 2b).
Both hemlock and wild carrot have similar white flowers at a glance but have distinct differences with further inspection. The flowers of both hemlock and wild carrot are small white clusters that originate from a common point on the main stem. Wild carrot flowers are clustered together and crowd each other so as they develop the edges of the flower become congested to form an upturned, concave surface Additionally, wild carrots occasionally have a dark spot in the middle of the flower cluster (Pictures 2a). Hemlocks flowers, on the other hand, are more evenly spaced and loosely clustered (Picture 1a). The leaves of hemlock and wild carrot are arranged differently around the stem with hemlock being bipinnate (Picture 1c) and wild carrot being pinnate (Picture 2c).
Yarrow blooms early in the summer along with wild carrot. Unlike hemlock and wild carrot, yarrow is a flowering plant native to North America. It can reach a height similar to wild carrot but can be distinguished by its leaves which arise from the base and resemble a feather. The flowering head can be white so, at a glance, it can be mistaken for wild carrot, but yarrow has slightly larger flowers with yellow centers.
Poison hemlock is a recent invasive plant and can be found throughout the United States. Since the above map was created, it has been found in Mississippi and Florida which speaks to its quick colonization of the temperate regions of North America. Wild carrot can be found throughout the Lower United States.
Hemlock is native to Africa as well as temperate and tropical regions of Asia and Europe. It was introduced to North America in the 18th century as a garden plant marketed as “winter fern.” Wild carrot is native to temperate regions of Europe, Southwestern Asia, and North Africa. It was most likely introduced in the early 17th century as a contaminant to grain seeds by European settlers of North America.
Hemlock and wild carrot are considered a naturalized and non-native species. Hemlock quickly infests disturbed sites such as roadsides, field margins, marshes, meadows, and low-lying areas. Wild carrot and hemlock can be a danger to newly restored habitats because they mature faster and grow larger than many native flowers. Burning habitats will not eliminate wild carrot but will expedite its growth and distribution. Similarly, burning hemlock may release its toxins so it is not a recommended management method.
Wild carrot roots are edible and share a common ancestor with cultivated orange carrot. When broken open or disturbed, wild carrot emits a carrot smell. Wild carrots, which are white, were first cultivated as a food crop in the Iranian Plateau and Persia in the 10th century and brought to modern day Spain and North Europe during the Arab Expansion. For this reason, wild carrot can contaminate crops of common orange carrots (Daucus carota sativus) through hybridization.
Hemlock is poisonous when ingested and may cause problems when exposed to the skin. When broken open, hemlock has an unpleasant odor associated with alkaloids, mousy, or musky smells. Hemlock causes damage to animal and human nervous systems leading to trembling, salivation, pupil dilation, and weak pulse. It will ultimately lead to respiratory paralysis and suffocation. In ancient Greece, hemlock was used to poison condemned prisoners, most famously the philosopher Socrates. Socrates chose to take an infusion of hemlock after he was sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the young minds of men in Athens in 399 BC.
Hemlock prefers moist soil and shady environments and is most often found in areas where water collects or lowlands where soil drainage is poor. However, wild carrot prefers full sun and well-drained soil that is sandy, loamy, or clay. Hemlock and wild carrot have some overlap in their growth in moderately dry soils and partially shady environments such as roadsides, railways, prairies, pastures, and old fields. Hemlock can also be present in marshes and low-lying areas unlike wild carrot.
Both spread via seeds. Hemlock simply drops seeds and most grow near the original parent plant. They do not have mechanisms for long distance distribution via wind or animals. This results in them being found in clumps of plants all growing in the same area. Conversely, wild carrot has mechanisms for long distance distribution via animal fur and wind. The seeds of wild carrot are flattened with hooked spines. These spines aid in its distribution since they can be carried long distances by animals. Additionally, the umbrella of a Wild Carrot will curl onto itself when it dries and eventually drops to form a tumbleweed so seeds can also be spread via wind. These mechanisms allow for a more scattered distribution.
Here in Bella Vista, both hemlock and wild carrot are very common along roadsides. Hemlock has a shorter growing season so the plants die out by mid to late June, whereas wild carrot can be seen on the roadsides in mid to late July.