Could you confidently identify the deadly water hemlock dropwort ?
Key features to know when identifying water hemlock dropwort.
Water hemlock dropwort is one of the most important plants for foragers to know well, and I mean really well! Your foraging safety may depend on you knowing this and the other relatively few deadly poisonous plants that you are likely to come across when foraging.
Read on for botanical descriptions, photographs and videos to help you identify water hemlock dropwort. It’s a really common plant, and if you are anywhere near water, it’s one that will be found throughout the year, unless covered in snow.
If you are interested in foraging from the carrot family, and to be fair, it’s almost inevitable that you will be if you have fallen in love with wild foods, then it will become absolutely necessary to know this plant, alongside it’s look-a-like relatives. This will probably require careful and repeated study, at all stages of its growth, and often with the passing of a couple of years.
In my previous post, you could learn about the exciting Apiaceae family, a.k.a the umbellifers. The key umbellifer plant patterns can be learnt quickly and easily, and it’s possible to practise them almost anywhere.
Umbellifers are extremely common – an absolute staple of the countryside, and have therefore found homes all over our towns and cities as soon as we moved in.
Aside from the half dozen or so close relatives in the genus Oenanthe (some also reportedly poisonous but not deadly), water hemlock dropwort has a couple of edible plants that it superficially resembles, and one plant that it’s almost a dead ringer for at first glance!
The look-a-likes often happen to live side-by-side in favourite habitats, so all the more reason for proceeding with caution.
Key features to look out for when identifying water hemlock dropwort.
Luckily for the budding forager, Water hemlock dropwort is easy to find! Pop down to almost any watercourse in Britain and you should come across it’s lime-green foliage. During the winter months it can be found growing happily away with basal rosettes of leaves. With so many other plants dormant, you should find it easier to spot during the darkest days of mid-winter.
As long as you are remembering to re-visit patches and plants through the seasons then you will get to know the plant. Understanding a plant’s refinement in form as it develops to produce a flowering stem, will mean you are ready for the changes in appearance that this plant produces.
Botanical an Photographic guide to water hemlock dropwort (Oenenathe crocata).
- Water-loving herbaceous perennial
- Shiny, triangular, pinnate leaves, 3-4 times divided with oval – lanceolate leaflets
- Water hemlock dropwort can grow in excess of 1 m 50 cm across and 1 m 5o cm high
- The plant ‘over-winters’ by watercourses, so can easily be spotted
- Leaflets with deeply cut toothed margins
- Celery / Parsley scented herb
- Petiole solid, with spongy pith, occasionally with white latex
- Petiole sheath at the base
- Petiole a flattened cylindrical-shape, with fine ridges
- Hollow, cylindrical flowering stems, with fine grooves
- White compound umbels, individual umbels displayed like pom-poms
- Umbels 10-20 cm with many rays
- Bracts and bracteoles are small linear, and will wither
- Tiny (2 mm) pom pom white flowers with unequal petals and tiny red anthers in the flower
- Fruits 4-6 mm, cylindrical, ridged
- Fat, oval-spindle shaped tuberous roots.
Favourite habitats of water hemlock dropwort
marshes and moist ground
wet woodlands and woodland clearances
brooks, streams, riverbanks and canalsides
None of course! – All parts of this plant are deadly poisonous – One bite of the root is apparently sufficient.
Lookalikes – Other water-dropwort Oenanthe species, wild celery (Apium graveolens), alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), and wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris).
A quick video with water hemlock dropwort
Geographic distribution of water hemlock dropwort
Abundant SW England and Wales. Common West Scotland. Rarer to absent oN the drier soils of East England, the Midlands, and NE England. Check out the online flora for a map and other information
Now you have the photos, video’s and descriptive information, you shouldn’t ever be as reckless and ignorant as the foolish and ever so fortunate campers up in Argyll, Scotland.
If you would like to get to know the carrot family more, you can book on one of my regular foraging events, which include carrot family courses, or try my article on getting to know the carrot family, available here.
Stay safe, happy foraging!