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'You just need to be aware': the truth about Poison Hemlock in Ottawa Co. Parks

The invasive species has been found in Ottawa County for about the past decade, but is only dangerous under specific circumstances
Poison Hemlock Web Photo
Posted at 6:06 PM, Jun 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-17 18:13:18-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — Poison Hemlock sounds scary, and in certain situations it can in fact be deadly. The invasive species is present in several Ottawa County parks, but is being managed, and unless you go out of your way, it poses little risk to those of us outside enjoying the wonders of nature.

The toxic plant has been found in Ottawa County parks for about the past ten years, but its presence has grown over time.

There is a particularly large amount in Holland's Paw Paw Park, along with in Zeeland's North Macatawa Nature Area.

“Just like any poisonous plants, you just need to be aware," said Melanie Manion, natural resources coordinator for the parks.

"We want to make sure that we get good information to help people know how to manage for it... what to be aware of, but also what not to be afraid of."

While Poison Hemlock can be deadly if it is eaten, or if you burn it and inhale the fumes, it is safe to be around.

“You actually have to break the stem and get the sap on you, and most people won't even get a reaction, only a few people will.”

“It's really the consuming it accidentally, or on purpose, that is lethal.”

Manion says that even brushing against the plant is very unlikely to cause any sort of reaction on your skin. It's what is on the inside of the plant that is dangerous.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "All parts of poison-hemlock (leaves, stem, fruit and root) are poisonous. Leaves are especially poisonous in the spring, up to the time the plant flowers."

“We really are trying our best to manage for it. It is an extremely difficult invasive to manage,” she said.

"We have tried everything that the best land managers in the country have recommended, and we are still unsuccessful in a lot of our properties."

Poison Hemlock can be spread from place to place when it gets picked up on shoes or vehicle tires.

“We have been watching it spread throughout Michigan by the highways," Manion said. "And I believe, personally, in our properties it's spreading by the rivers.”

Poison Hemlock has white flowers that grow in clusters on its branches. They can grow to be upwards of six feet tall.

While Ottawa County Parks keeps track of all invasive species on their roughly 7,000 acres of land, there is always the possibility of small patches popping up here and there.

If you find a patch on your next outing, you can report it to them at ocparks (@) or (616) 786-4847.

Michigan State University's agriculture extension has a website with lots of information about Poison Hemlock HERE.

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