With lacy leaves and delicate flowers, this plant doesn’t look like a deadly killer. But it is. This is the same plant that is fabled to have poisoned Socrates, and is the bane of ranchers since it can kill undiscriminating cows (it’s also responsible for “crooked calf disease“). There’s no antidote. So – admire this one from a distance, but don’t eat it, crush it, or take any other liberties. The root is the most poisonous part (unnerving, since it’s part of the inviting-looking carrot family!)
Conium maculatum isn’t native to California, but it is found throughout most of the state, often in open or disturbed places. Plants can grow to more than six feet tall, and have many flat umbels of lacy white flowers. Its similar-looking cousins, water hemlock, are also poisonous. But when I saw some on the open space above Mill Valley the other day, the lady bugs were having a wonderful time hanging out on the hemlock flowers!