Officials are warning Minnesotans about a dangerous weed that's creeping up in parts of the state.
Poison hemlock – aka deadly hemlock, poison parsley, spotted hemlock, European hemlock, and California or Nebraska fern – looks harmless enough. Even pretty, with clusters of little white flowers, delicate leaves, and purply stems.
But it's highly toxic to humans and animals. So now that the plant is in bloom, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is reminding residents to look out for it.
The weed was most recently found in southeastern Minnesota, and appears to be spreading quickly in the St. Charles and Lanesboro areas, the agency says. But it could be growing pretty much anywhere around the state.
It's typically found in ditches, edges of fields, along creek beds, and in other moist, wet places – the bushes can get up to 8 feet tall.
Poison hemlock is actually a toxic member of the carrot family. All parts of the plant are poisonous, and it's most dangerous when eaten or swallowed – which presents a greater risk to pets and animals.
It only takes 500 mg or less of the plant to kill a sheep or cow, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
Humans have been poisoned by confusing hemlock root with wild parsnips, hemlock leaves with parsley, or hemlock seed with anise, the USDA says. And whistles made from hollow stems of the plant have killed children.
Just touching it could be harmful too. Officials say the oils can soak into your skin and cause severe irritation, so you should wear gloves and protective clothing if you're handling it.
If a person may have ingested poison hemlock, call Minnesota Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222. If they are unresponsive or having trouble breathing, call 911.
And if you think you've found some poison hemlock, take a picture of the plant and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact your local University of Minnesota Extension office.