Thursday, February 19, 2015

Poison in the Park

We like to think of our parks as safe places, and, for the most part, they are. But Larry Moore Park is full of poison, especially from February until the end of summer. It's not only poison, but it's lovely poison. You can see it here on the left. I suggest you click to enlarge these photos so you can see the leaves in greater detail. Those beautiful green lacy leaves are none other than poison hemlock, the same stuff that killed Socrates. See my article Poison Hemlock: Lovely but Lethal for information on how to recognize it at every stage of its life.

I took the photos in this blog post at Larry Moore Park on February 18, 2015, but the park is full of poison hemlock very year. You will also find it all over the North County on uncultivated land and on roadsides, and probably in your yard if you have open space. It smells sinister if you pick it, but you really don't even want to touch it. One mouthful of this plant can kill an adult, but it comes with no warning labels except its smell, and even that is subtle.

Poison hemlock often grows in close proximity to milk thistle, another beautiful plant, but it won't harm you unless you touch its thorns. Wild mustard often grows with one or both of these. You can see the broad white-streaked milk thistle leaves interspersed among the hemlock plants in this photo.

Wild Mustard and Poison Hemlock Together
If you see a fern-like bright green plant growing next to mustard and / or milk thistle, it is very likely to be poison hemlock. Teach your children to recognize these plants. Mustard and milk thistle are harmless, but they can warn you that poison hemlock may be nearby. If your children play at Larry Moore Park between back trail and the riverbed, be sure they are warned never to touch the green plants or eat them. Poison hemlock can resemble wild celery, Queen Anne's Lace, and even wild carrot. They are in the same family.

This last photo shows you just how much poison hemlock invades the park. I was walking that back trail that leads to river access when I took these pictures. The poison hemlock grows not only along the trail, but through all the dead and living trees almost to where the river sand starts. It's a see of green invading the woods - just where children might be playing hide and seek. Look through the trees and you will see it everywhere.