Hemlock Water Dropwort – Dead Man’s finger!

Hemlock Water Dropwort, HWD Lake After the wettest winter in history, excavators have been deployed in many sports facilities, open spaces and watercourses this spring to prevent future flooding.

A perennial that grows up to one metre high in shallow waters of streams, ditches, rivers and lakes is the hemlock water drip (Oenanthe crocata), also known as the Dead Man’s Finger, the most poisonous plant to humans and animals growing in Britain. It contains a powerful neurotoxin called enanthetoxin, which can cause cramp-like cramps followed by sudden death. This exposes the tuber roots of the plant. The toxic part of the plant’s tuber root has given rise to the alternative name “Dead Man’s Finger,” because this part of the plant is the most toxic and even small amounts of plant material can be fatal.

It is also worth warning against open spaces where public tents, picnics and foraging take place. For plant operators whose land is used for grazing at certain times of the year, it is of particular concern when stocks are high, when forage is scarce or when the stock may be tempted to eat the plants in the summer.

Hemlock water dropwortIdentifying the enemy

The leaves are dark green and very similar to the Italian flat leaf parsley, with a pronounced scent of celery or parsley. In ditches and clearings animals and humans probably come into contact with leaves and roots. Hemlock belongs to the Umbellifera family and is characterized by its broad leaves, which narrow and bloom from June to July.

Going into battle

Mechanical digging, digging and handling of the roots poses a danger to the user and plant material must be disposed of carefully, ideally by burning.

Apply the equivalent of 5L of Roundup or Probio in a 1: 40 dilution with a commercially available rosette stage Tornister Sprayer (when the plant is flowering) to avoid a phase of rapid stem lengthening. Requests for sowing should be made before awareness raising in June or July. Remember that the use of pesticides in water requires the approval of the Environment Agency.

Glyphosate kills grass stains and should be treated with caution to minimise grass shrinkage. An alternative method is to use a hand-held weedkiller with two parts water and one part Roundup Probio. After treatment, it blooms and prevents the production of viable seeds.

Monsanto Application ratesWear protective gloves or protective suits when handling plants, whether they are alive or dead. If part of the plant remains poisonous after spraying, fill up the treated area and exclude it until the leaves turn brown and die. Monitor the area throughout the year and spray when new plants emerge from seeds in the soil.

Dead Man’s Finger facts!

In ancient times, the plant was used for ritual killings, with the victim leaving a strange grin on his face due to the paralysing properties of hemlock. In the British wilderness, it was responsible for other fatal accidents: a group of workers repairing a crack in a tow track dug up the plant and ate the roots, mistaking it for a parsnip; another group working in the field thought a few leaves on their bread and cheese would prove tasty; in both cases, death occurred within three hours. On another occasion, eight boys ate the root, five died and the other three suffered severe convulsions. Hemlock is often mistaken for water pastines, but Alexander the Great was a popular food seeker, and a medical journal reported that a group of four vacationers recovered from the effects of eating curry from the plant without hospital treatment.Hemlock Water Dropwort

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