Poison hemlock sparks concerns in Lancaster County

Intelligencer Journal Lancaster New Era
Updated Jun 10, 2013 09:52

Originally  Published Jun 10, 2013 00:11
By AD CRABLE   Staff Writer        acrable@lnpnews.com

Poison hemlock — yes, the plant that was used to execute Socrates — is  exploding across Lancaster County, worrying livestock owners, parents and  naturalists.
The highly poisonous herb is another one of those non-native  plants brought to the United States because it looked pretty, but it is now  wreaking environmental havoc.
Over the last several years, hemlock, which  can grow swiftly to up to 10 feet tall, has elbowed out such other unwanted  foreign vegetation as ailanthus and Canadian thistle to become a dominant part  of the scenery here along roadsides, pastures and field edges.
“I just  think the whole county should be alert to this because it is spreading so  rapidly, and I just hate to envision what it will look like five years from now  if nothing is done, because it is just totally taking over,” said Roland Yoder,  77, a former biology and art teacher who lives at Landis Homes Retirement  Community.
“I see that poison hemlock everywhere, and I have a concern  about it,” added Jeffrey Graybill, of Penn State Extension’s Lancaster  office.
PennDOT crews here have begun spraying roadsides with poison  hemlock, said agency spokesman Mike Crochunis.
“It’s taken off,” said  William Curran, a Penn State professor of weed science. “It’s just about  everywhere between Lancaster and State College.
“If it becomes more  common in hay or pasture fields, I think people would pay more attention. I’m  not sure if we’ve seen the tip of the iceberg.”
All parts of poison  hemlock are extremely poisonous to humans and livestock, especially the  seeds.
“Deaths have occurred from mistaking the roots for wild carrots,”  warns a broadside by the state Department of Conservation and Natural  Resources.
Fortunately, livestock generally don’t like the taste of the  plant. It would likely be avoided in a pasture unless other vegetation had dried  up or disappeared, experts said.
But with the rapid spread of the plant,  local ag officials are worried that it is within easier reach of cows and horses  on the edges of fields. The plant being cut and baled into hay is another  concern.
“I have not heard of any human or livestock poisoning in the  state yet with it, but I still don’t understand why we haven’t, actually,” said  Graybill.
Jeff Stoltzfus, a farmer and the adult agriculture instructor  for Eastern Lancaster County School District, said the plant killed a couple of  horses in the county about 10 years ago.
Dr. Willard Stoltzfus, a  large-animal veterinarian with Black Horse Animal Hospital, Kinzers, said he  suspected hemlock poisoning in a few cases involving livestock 20 years  ago.
Although several horses and livestock are poisoned each year in  Pennsylvania from eating poisonous plants, the state Department of Agriculture  has not received any recent confirmations of livestock poisoned by eating  hemlock, said spokeswoman Nicole Bucher.
But, she said, “It does appear  more prevalent this year than in past years. It’s definitely something we’re  keeping an eye on and we’re concerned about, especially when it’s near fields  and feedlots.
“We may consider listing it as a noxious weed, which would  give us regulatory authority to stop its spread.”
A poison hemlock  distribution map by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows about half the  counties in Pennsylvania being invaded by the plant.
The unwanted plant  is native to Europe, western Asia and North Africa. It is in the same family as  carrots, parsley and Queen Anne’s lace and is sometimes mistaken for those  plants with its white, lacy flowers.
It is not related to hemlock trees  that are native to North America.
It was introduced to the United States  as an ornamental garden plant. As has happened with so many invasives, the plant  spread into the wild. Now, it is running amok.
As with many other  invasives, it crowds out native species.
Hemlock is a biennial plant.  Those towering plants seen now with white flowers are ready to spread their  seeds, then die.
A single hemlock plant can produce more than 30,000  seeds, which is why it has spread so rapidly and is a nightmare to  control.
This is why Yoder thinks there needs to be a major publicity  campaign mustered to alert the public to its potential dangers.
“If you  own any land, make sure you try to get rid of it,” he  suggested.

Read more:  http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/859651_Poison-hemlock-sparks-concerns-in-Lancaster-County.html#ixzz2Vp706KoO

Author: Bobby Kenyon
Bobby Kenyon is the Creative Solutions Guru for C.E. Pontz Sons who has over a decade plus experience in the Landscape & Water Garden industry . He enjoys long walks on the beach and grocery shopping but has a strong dislike for regular cake and off brand paper towels

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