A couple of weeks ago, my thirty-something daughter was busy gathering wildflowers for her brother’s wedding. “Mom, do you know what that plant is?” There it was, growing in our backyard along the creek. I am pretty sure it has been there ever since we moved in almost five years ago. But no, I didn’t know what it was. “Well, it looks a lot like wild parsnip, except the flowers are white instead of yellow. I think I’ll leave it alone.” (You can read more about wild parsnip here.)
Of course, after that I had to figure out what it was. And the answer surprised me. Who would have guessed that “the most poisonous plant in the North Temperate Zone” (per ethnobotanist H. D. Harrington, as quoted in a USDA Forest Service article) was growing right there in our backyard? Allow me to introduce you to water hemlock, more formally known as Cicuta maculata.
What good is it?
By now you are wondering if I yanked it all out of the ground right after I took the pictures. No, I didn’t. Number one, I didn’t want to inadvertently get juice from this plant on my hands. Sure, I could wear gloves, but then I’d have to throw out the gloves. And what’s the proper way to dispose of the pulled plants? Two, my kids still living at home are old enough to leave a plant called “suicide root” by Native Americans strictly alone, and we don’t have any animals that would eat it. Three, lots of living creatures find this plant useful.According to the Illinois Wildflower website, larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly feed on the leaves of water hemlock, and more than a dozen genera of insects feed on the nectar. I suspect many of these insects help pollinate our vegetable garden nearby. And why needlessly disturb a functioning native habitat when there are plenty of invasive plants I could be removing?
Truly, I haven’t made up my mind. If I do decide to remove it, I want to think about the smartest, least harmful way to go about it. And if I do decide to eradicate it, I expect to be fighting the battle for several years, because I am sure there is a lot of seed in the ground waiting to sprout, and perhaps plants upstream ready to float more seed to our banks. There are a lot of things to consider and I don’t want to make a hasty decision. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the structure and texture this plant adds to the creek bank.
Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”