Poison Hemlock vs. Queen Anne’s Lace: How to Tell the Difference

Poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace are two common wild plants that have similar appearances but very different levels of toxicity. Being able to tell the difference between these two plants is an important outdoor skill. Here is a thorough guide on distinguishing between poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace.


Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is an extremely toxic plant that is native to Europe and has become invasive in many parts of North America. All parts of the poison hemlock plant contain the toxic alkaloids coniine and gamma-coniceine which can cause respiratory collapse and death if ingested.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is a wildflower native to temperate regions around the world. It is a common plant that poses no major health risks. However, Queen Anne’s lace is often mistaken for the deadly poison hemlock.

Being able to reliably tell these two plants apart could literally save your life. Below we will cover the key differences in appearance, habitat, smell, and other identifying factors.

Key Differences in Appearance


  • Poison hemlock has smooth, hollow green stems with purple spots. The stems are hairless and contain a white liquid sap.
  • Queen Anne’s lace has hairy stems that are solid, not hollow, and lack purple spotting.


  • Poison hemlock flowers are small (1⁄4 inch diameter) and white, forming dense umbrella-shaped clusters at the ends of branches.
  • Queen Anne’s lace flowers are much larger (2+ inches diameter), with a single dark red floret in the center, forming lacy flat-topped clusters.


  • Poison hemlock leaves are fern-like, triangular and finely divided, with a musty odor. Leaves attach directly to main stems.
  • Queen Anne’s lace leaves are also fern-like but less finely divided. Leaves attach to small stems off the main stalk. No odor.


  • Poison hemlock seeds are grey-brown, with wavy ridges.
  • Queen Anne’s lace seeds are small, brown, and bumpy like carrot seeds.

Habitat Differences

  • Poison hemlock grows in disturbed areas like roadsides, railroads, drainage ditches, along fences and vacant lots.
  • Queen Anne’s lace prefers open fields, pastures, roadsides, and other open sunny sites. Less likely to grow in wet or shady areas.


  • Poison hemlock has a strong musty or mouse-like odor when any part is crushed.
  • Queen Anne’s lace has a faint but pleasant, carrots-like smell if leaves are crushed.

Other Identification Tips

  • Poison hemlock usually grows 3-7 feet tall on smooth green hollow stems with purple blotches.
  • Queen Anne’s lace is typically 2-4 feet tall with hairy, solid stems.
  • Look for the single dark red floret on Queen Anne’s lace flower heads. Poison hemlock lacks this.
  • Poison hemlock has fern-like leaves that attach directly to main stems. Queen Anne’s lace leaves attach to small stems off the main stalks.
  • Crush leaves and smell. Poison hemlock has an unpleasant musty odor. Queen Anne’s lace smells faintly of carrot.


Being able to accurately identify poison hemlock vs. Queen Anne’s lace could save a life. Key points to tell them apart include differences in stem and leaf features, flower clusters, smells, and habitat preferences. When in doubt, avoid contact with any unknown plant. Learn to positively identify Queen Anne’s lace and steer clear of anything that resembles poison hemlock, especially if it has any musty odor when crushed. Stay safe when exploring the outdoors!

FAQs About Poison Hemlock vs. Queen Anne’s Lace

What are the main ways to tell poison hemlock apart from Queen Anne’s lace?

The key differences are:

  • Stems: Poison hemlock has smooth hollow stems with purple spots. Queen Anne’s lace has hairy solid stems.
  • Flowers: Poison hemlock has small white flowers in umbrella-shaped clusters. Queen Anne’s lace has larger flat-topped white clusters with one dark red floret.
  • Leaves: Poison hemlock leaves are triangular and fern-like attaching to main stems. Queen Anne’s lace leaves are less divided and attach to small stems.
  • Smell: Crushed poison hemlock leaves have a musty, mouse-like odor. Queen Anne’s lace has a faint carrot smell when crushed.

Can you eat Queen Anne’s lace?

While not recommended, the roots, shoots, leaves, flowers and seeds of Queen Anne’s lace are edible. However, great care must be taken not to confuse it with poison hemlock or other wild carrots that resemble Queen Anne’s lace. Never eat any wild plant unless you have absolute certainty of its identification.

What happens if you eat poison hemlock?

Eating any part of the poison hemlock plant can cause dangerous toxicity. Even small amounts can cause rapid respiratory failure and death. Larger amounts paralyze the central nervous system, causing convulsions, coma and fatality. Seek immediate medical help if poison hemlock is ingested.

Is poison hemlock illegal?

In many areas, poison hemlock is classified as a noxious weed, invasive plant, or toxic species and landowners may be required to control or remove it from their property. Know your local laws and do your part to remove this dangerous plant from areas frequented by people and animals.

What is the best way to control or remove poison hemlock?

Manual removal by digging, pulling, or cutting poison hemlock at its taproots before it sets seeds is an effective control method. Severing stems below ground level can kill established plants. Always wear protective gloves and wash hands and clothes after handling poison hemlock. Properly dispose of plant parts to prevent re-growth or poisoning of animals. Targeted herbicide application may also be an option. Consult a plant expert to determine the best control methods for your situation.

How do you safely dispose of poison hemlock plants?

Never compost poison hemlock plants or discard them where people or animals may come into contact. For disposal, bag specimens securely in thick plastic bags. Check local guidelines, as some municipalities recommend disposing poisonous plants with household hazardous waste facilities or designated toxic plant collection sites. Wear protective clothing while handling and wash up thoroughly afterwards.

Key Takeaways

  • Learn how to positively identify Queen Anne’s lace and stay away from anything resembling poison hemlock. When in doubt, avoid unknown plants.
  • Watch for key differences in stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, smells and habitats. Poison hemlock has smooth hollow stems with purple spots, fern-like leaves attaching to main stalks, umbrella-shaped white flowers, and unpleasant musty odor.
  • Seek immediate medical help if any part of poison hemlock is ingested. All parts contain toxic alkaloids that are extremely dangerous.
  • Take careful precautions when manually removing or disposing of poison hemlock plants to avoid poisoning people or animals.

More Resources

Illustrated Guide to Identifying Queen Anne’s Lace vs Poison Hemlock

Video: How to Identify Poison Hemlock

Poison Hemlock Factsheet – National Invasive Species Information Center

Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Carrot Daucus carota – Wildflowers of Michigan