Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot: 5 Key Differences

Written by August Buck
Published: September 2, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/emilio100
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Given that they look strikingly similar to one another, you may be wondering how to tell poison hemlock vs wild carrot apart. Which of these wild and invasive plants is edible, and how can you learn to identify one of the most poisonous plants in North America? Whether you are a wild forager or simply want to manage the weeds growing in your backyard, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we will compare and contrast poison hemlock and wild carrot so that you can fully understand the differences between them. We will go over the physical description of these plants so that you can safely identify them, along with where they grow best and what they are typically used for. Let’s get started!

Comparing Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot
Wild carrot plants are edible, while poison hemlock is extremely poisonous.

A-Z-Animals.com

Poison HemlockWild Carrot
Plant ClassificationConium maculatumDaucus carota
DescriptionReaches up to ten feet tall and sprouts delicate white flowers in umbel shapes. Leaves are triangular, intricate, scalloped, and not hairy. Stems have unique purple spots on them and are also not hairyReaches up to five feet tall and sprouts one large umbellifer per stem. The leaves are intricate, with rounded edges and hair on the undersides. The stems are hairy as well, and the white umbel flowers have a dark spot in the center of the whole umbel 
UsesVery few uses, given how poisonous it is; a noxious weed in most locationsConsidered a noxious weed by some, but a beloved wildflower by others. Some medicinal and culinary uses
Origin and Growing PreferencesNative to Europe; prefers to grow in moist soil and along rivers or near farmland. Very hardy and invasiveNative to Eurasia; prefers full sunlight and moist soil. Hardy to a point, but may not grow well in flooded or highly trafficked areas
Best Way to IdentifyLook for the purple spots on its stems and stay away!Look for the large flowering umbellifers, and a dark center dot in each umbrella!

Key Differences Between Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot
Wild carrot leaves and stems have small hairs present on them, but poison hemlock plants remain smooth and hairless.

iStock.com/emilio100

There are a number of key differences between poison hemlock and wild carrot. For example, poison hemlock and wild carrot are from the same plant family, but very different genuses. The poison hemlock plant grows taller than the average wild carrot plant. In addition, wild carrot plants are edible, while poison hemlock is extremely poisonous. Finally, wild carrot plants are more hairy compared to poison hemlock plants.

Let’s go over all of these differences in more detail now.

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot: Classification

There are enough undeniable similarities between poison hemlock and wild carrot that it should be unsurprising to hear that they are related to one another. They both belong to the Apiaceae family, known for its umbels, but poison hemlock belongs to the Conium genus, while wild carrot belongs to the Daucus genus. This makes them related in some ways, but they are classified very differently from one another because of this. 

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot: Description

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot
Poison hemlock plants grow up to 10 ft tall on average, while wild carrot plants only reach 5 feet tall on average. 

iStock.com/RuudMorijn

Given that one of these plants is edible and one of them is extremely poisonous, you likely want to know how to best identify them from each other. Thankfully, there are a few key things to pay attention to if you are trying to identify poison hemlock and wild carrots, respectively. For example, poison hemlock plants grow up to 10 feet tall on average, while wild carrot plants only reach 5 feet tall on average. 

The leaves of the poison hemlock plants are intricate and triangular with scalloped edges, while wild carrot leaves are similarly intricate, but less intricate compared to poison hemlock leaves. In addition, wild carrot leaves and stems have small hairs present on them, but poison hemlock plants remain smooth and hairless.

The umbels found on poison hemlock plants are more spread out and have more stems compared to the centralized umbel flowers grown on wild carrots. Finally, wild carrot umbels have a dark dot in the center of them, while poison hemlock plants do not have this. 

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot: Uses

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot
Poison hemlock prefers more moisture and can handle a more heavily trafficked area compared to the more delicate wild carrot plant.

iStock.com/Goldfinch4ever

There are some obvious differences in the uses of poison hemlock and the uses of wild carrot. While both of these plants are considered noxious weeds in a number of places, poison hemlock is toxic to both humans and animals, while wild carrot plants are edible and often grown in medicinal gardens

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot: Origin and How to Grow

Despite them looking similar to one another, poison hemlock and wild carrot have different origins and growing preferences. For example, poison hemlock is native to Europe, while wild carrot is native to Eurasia. Both of these plants grow in a variety of full-sun locations and are considered hardy overall, but poison hemlock prefers more moisture and can handle a more heavily trafficked area compared to the more delicate wild carrot plant. 

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot: Best Way to Identify

Poison Hemlock vs Wild Carrot
Wild carrot has a unique dark spot in the center of its pure white umbel flowers, something that poison hemlock does not share.

iStock.com/Nahhan

Given that poison hemlock is poisonous and wild carrot is not, you may be seeking some of the best ways to identify these plants if you are on the trail or foraging in the wild. Thankfully, there are a few key things to keep an eye out for. The best way to tell whether or not you are looking at a poison hemlock plant is to look at the stem. Poison hemlock has purplish spots on its stem, while wild carrot does not have any spots. 

However, wild carrot has a unique dark spot in the center of its pure white umbel flowers, something that poison hemlock does not share. If you are hoping to identify wild carrot, one of the best ways to do this is to find the dark purple or red spots nestled in the center of all of these beautiful little flowers!

poison hemlock plant
Poison hemlock thrives near pastures and rivers.
iStock.com/emilio100
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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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Sources
  1. The antioxidant and anticancer effects of wild carrot oil extract, Available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.4776
  2. Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum L.), Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691504001309