Ontario Wildflowers website

Water Hemlock
Cicuta maculata

Other common names: Spotted Cowbane, Spotted Water Hemlock

Other scientific names: Cicuta occidentalis

French names: Cicutaire maculée

Family: Parsley Family (Apiaceae)

Group: Water Hemlocks

Distinctive features: Wet areas. Alternate twice-compound leaves; leaflets sometimes haphazard in arrangement.

Similar species:
  •   Water Parsnip (Sium suave) - very similar, except the leaflets are not so haphazard.

  •   Cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior) - also poisonous, and closely resembles Water Parsnip.

  •   Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera) - leaves are very fine.

  •   Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) - grows in dry areas and smells like carrots.

  •   Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) - Grows in woods, not in wet areas.

  •   Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) - leaves are finely divided.
  •   Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) - A tree; similar in name only; no relation; not poisonous. See the Ontario Trees & Shrubs website.

Flowers: Summer;  White;  5 parts (petals);  Small white flowers in a flat or rounded umbel (an umbrella-shaped cluster) 2-5" wide. Individual flowers about 1/8" wide, have 5 petals and 5 stamens.

Leaves: Alternate, Compound, Toothed;  Alternate compound leaves with lance-shaped leaflets, pointed, with numerous teeth. Note the sometimes multiples of leaves giving rise to a somewhat haphazard arrangement of leaves along the leaf stem. Sometimes tinged with red. Up to about 4" long, 1.5" wide. The veins on the leaflets end at the notches between the teeth (this is unusual in plants).

Height: 1-2 m (3-6 ft)

Stem: Branching, smooth & stout, often mottled or solid purple. Hollow. Lower part of stem chambered. Roots have fat tuberlike branches.

Habitat: Wet Areas;  Wet open areas such as marshes, along shores, and sometimes open swamps.

Lifespan: Perennial.  

Poisonous: ***DEADLY POISONOUS***.

Books: Newcomb's Wildflower Guide: 222    Peterson's Field Guide to Wildflowers: 52    ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario: 125   

Native/Non-native: Native

Notes: Read about Water Hemlocks.

Origin and Meaning of Names:
 Scientific Name: maculata: spotted

Photographs: 272 photographs available, of which 15 are featured on this page. SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOGRAPHS.

Range Map is at the bottom of the page

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

The whole plant. Note its somewhat open ragged look.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)


Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Another look at the leaves.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

These leaves are a bit abnormal - they are "chunkier" than usual.

As always with plant identifications ... watch out for the aberrant individuals.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Flower umbel.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Many mini-clusters of tiny flowers.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

A closer view.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Individual flowers.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Photo of the stem. Note the purplish tinge.

Also note the "glaucous" aspect of the stem - the whitish bloom which is easily wiped off.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Another stem. Note also the fine vertical lines running vertically along the stem.

The stems are hollow. This tempting aspect has led to poisonings of children who find the stems appealing as pea shooters.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Water Hemlock seeds in late fall, early winter.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Water Hemlock in the dead of winter.

Note the leftover flower umbel.

Get to know this plant very well in the summer, so you can avoid it in the winter.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Herbarium specimen of Water Hemlock.

(Royal Botanical Gardens Herbarium, Burlington, Ontario)..

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

This herbarium specimen shows the tuberous roots.

(Royal Botanical Gardens Herbarium, Burlington, Ontario)..

Range map for Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

PLEASE NOTE: A coloured Province or State means this species occurs somewhere in that Province/State.
The entire Province/State is coloured, regardless of where in that Province/State it occurs.

(Range map provided courtesy of the USDA website and is displayed here in accordance with their Policies)