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Poison hemlock popping up around Central Kitsap and Bremerton

Poison hemlock - Courtesy of Washington State University Kitsap County Extension
Poison hemlock
— image credit: Courtesy of Washington State University Kitsap County Extension

A plant used for assassinating French royalty and executing Greek philosopher Socrates is becoming a domestic problem.

Poison hemlock has been identified growing in the Central Kitsap area and experts say it's best to steer clear.

"This is just not something to mess with," said Jim Williams, executive director of the Washington Poison Center.

The plant has been spotted in downtown Bremerton, often in vacant lots, as well as in Silverdale along Bucklin Hill Road.

The death of a Tacoma woman in April has been blamed on the plant, the first of its kind in 11 years, Williams said.

So far, there have been no reports of deadly contact with the plant in Kitsap County, but a few residents have come away with itchy hands, said Dana Coggon, Kitsap County noxious weed coordinator.

The plant has a sap on its stem that can cause allergic reactions when it comes in contact with skin, Coggon said. Washed immediately, the affected area usually won't become a problem, she said.

It's when someone eats the plant that serious problems occur.

Poison hemlock is related to, and looks like, parsley. Confusing the two can be deadly.

Coggon said it is not uncommon for the plant to grow in a garden where it can be picked for salads. The plant can also resemble a wild carrot, a mistake that almost cost a Bellingham man his life in April.

Coggon said she recommends that anyone who suspects they or someone else has eaten the plant see a doctor immediately and to never consume anything they are not completely sure isn't poisonous.

The plant is identified by its thick, hairless and hollow stem with purple spotting and white flower heads clustered in an umbrella shape. It can grow up to 10 feet and is commonly found in damp areas and in ravines, fields and along the road.

After taking the necessary precautions — donning gloves and a long-sleeved shirt — residents who find the plant growing in our around their yard are encouraged to carefully remove it down to the root, Coggon said.

Because toxins can survive composting, Coggon said it's not recommended. She said rather that the plant should be thrown into a trash bag and left to die before being disposed of at a landfill.

Anyone who finds the plant is encouraged to take digital pictures and send them to Coggon, dcoggon@co.kitsap.wa.us, to help identify areas in the county where the plant has become a problem.

Because the plant is notorious for returning even after it's been removed, Coggon said the best practice for residents is to keep cutting the plant back.

"If you can at least keep it from going to seed, you are saving years of headaches," she said, adding that herbicides are not recommended.

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