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Watch Out for Queen Anne's Lace Look-Alikes

At this time of the year, the wildflower, Wild Carrot or Queen Anne's Lace, is in bloom. It is known for its beautiful white compound umbels of flowers that measure 2 to 5 inches across and is the source of our cultivated carrots. People will pick these flowers for drying and later using in dried flower arrangements. The wild carrot is a biennial that stands 2 to 5 feet tall and has compound leaves that are rather lacy or fern-like. The foliage has a bitter-soapy aroma that is typical of carrots.

Also, blooming now are two poisonous plants that people sometimes confuse with the Wild Carrot. They are Wild Parsnips and Poison Hemlock. Wild parsnip plant parts contain a substance called psoralen, which can cause a condition known as "phytophotodermatitis." This reaction occurs when plant juice gets on the skin and the skin is exposed to sunlight. The results are skin reddening, rash development, and in severe cases, blisters and burning or scalding type pain (1). Poison hemlock is highly toxic to humans and animals. REMEMBER - all parts of this plant are poisonous. This is the plant that killed Socrates.

To identify wild parsnips, you will notice that it has yellow compound umbrels of flowers that measure 2 to 5 inches across. these flowers are on thick green grooved stems that stand 2 to 5 feet tall. Its leaves resemble those of celery and are not lacy or fern-like. CAUTION - getting wild parsnip plant sap on your skin can cause severe rashes and burning pain.

The key features of poison hemlock that distinguish it from wild carrot are that it stands 6 to 9 feet tall and has purple blotches on its thick green stems. Unfortunately this highly poisonous plant has leaves that resemble those of the wild carrot  and so do its white umbrels of flowers.

If you are picking wildflowers with beautiful white compound umbrels of flowers, PLEASE check the plant stem to see whether it has "purple blotches". Purple blotches are the sign that you are probably looking at poison hemlock, a very poisonous plant, and do not pick those flowers.

If you are looking for more detailed information on Wild Carrot, Wild Parsnips and Poison Hemlock or on other Illinois Wildflowers, check out Dr. John Hilty's "Illinois Wildflowers" site.