The edible and healing Queen Anne’s Lace is a member of the same family as the poisonous Hemlock and the plants look similar. You should always be sure of your identification before using a plant, but in this case the stakes are very high. We will go through the differences here to help you identify both plants.
Use Caution When Identifying Plants
Since all parts of water hemlock are poisonous, please use caution when handling the plant for identification and do not harvest any plant until it is definitively identified. I wear gloves when handling plants such as hemlock for identification or other purposes.
Contrary to some beliefs, hemlock does not produce a contact rash or irritation. The poison is active when ingested, but it can also be transferred from your hands to your mouth or eyes and can be absorbed through cuts or wounds. Even tiny amounts can be toxic.
Look at the Flowers
Both plants have white flowers that bloom in umbrella like clusters called an umbrel. The Queen Anne’s lace flowers clusters are arranged flat across the top while the Hemlock flowers are more spread out with more space between the smaller flower clusters.
One way to absolutely identify Queen Anne’s lace is to find the single purple or red flower in the center of the umbrel. If the flower is present, it is definitely Queen Anne’s lace. However, absence of the flower does not mean that the plant is hemlock. Some varieties of Queen Anne’s lace also lack the center purple flower.
Compare All Differences
The two plants look very similar and can be mistaken. I am giving you a chart below with comparisons between the plants, but I recommend that you not rely on any one characteristic and do not rely on memory unless you are skilled in telling the plants apart. A mistake can be deadly.
The healing Queen Anne’s lace plant is hairy. It has hair on the undersides of the leaves and on the flowering stem. Its flowers are arranged in a tight, flat topped umbrel which grows at the end of a solid green stem.
Hemlock grows almost twice as tall as Queen Anne’s lace, but this alone is not enough to distinguish the plants. Hemlock flowers grow at the end of a hollow stem which is often splotched or spotted with dark red or purple spots. The umbrel is more rounded in shape and more open.
Comparison Points for Hemlock to Queen Anne’s Lace
#1. Compare plant height. Hemlock grows to be 6 to 10 feet tall, while Queen Anne’s lace is only 3 to 6 feet in height.
#2. Compare the flower stem. Hemlock has a smooth, thick stem with red or purple splotches of varying sizes. Hemlock stems can be completely purple or have purple stripes. Queen Anne’s flower stems are thinner and green or green with long red stripes.
#3. Hemlock flower stems are smooth on the outside and hollow on the inside. Queen Anne’s lace flower stems are more solid and have short hairs that should be visible in a close look and feel fuzzy to the touch.#4. Hemlock flower stems often have a white powdery coating and Queen Anne’s lace stems do not.
#5. Hemlock flowers are more spread out with more space between the smaller flower clusters while Queen Anne’s lace flowers form a tighter pattern with less space between the flowers.
Hemlock umbrels are rounded while Queen Anne’s lace umbrels are flat across the top.#6. Hemlock umbrels are a collection of green or white petals gathered in an umbrella shape. Umbrels are 2 to 4 inches across. Queen Anne’s lace umbrels are 3 to 4 inches wide and may be pink in bud and white when in bloom.
#7. Queen Anne’s lace sometimes has a single reddish or purple flower in the center of each umbrel. Locating this single red or purple flower is definitive for Queen Anne’s Lace, but not all varieties have this sign. Hemlock never has this blood colored flower.
#8. Dried hemlock umbrels retain their original shape while Queen Anne’s lace umbrels curl into a bird’s nest shape when dry.
#9. Hemlock leaves are finely divided and lacy. They are tripinnate and alternate in a pinate pattern. Serrations are sharply pointed. Queen Anne’s Lace leaflets are lanceolate and serrated. Each is 2 to 4 inches in length with serrations that are more rounded at the tips. The lower side of the leaves is slightly hairy.#10. Compare the scent of the plant. Hemlock has an unpleasant odor while Queen Anne’s lace has a pleasant scent that is much like carrots.
#11. Compare the roots. Hemlock roots are thickened tubers that grow deeper and spread more than the Queen Anne’s lace tap root. Hemlock roots produce an oily juice that turns reddish brown on exposure to air. Queen Anne’s Lace root is also known as wild carrot and is shaped like a thin carrot. It usually is a single tap root.
Helpful Ways to Remember the Plants
Over the years, foragers and herbalists have created stories to help them remember which plant is healing and which is deadly. Here are two such memory devices:
Legend has it that while Queen Anne was sewing a piece of lace, she pricked her finger and a single drop of blood fell into the center of the flowers, giving them the single red or purple flower in the center of each umbrel. The presence of this blood colored flower is a positive identification for Queen Anne’s Lace and it’s healing properties.
Another way to remember the plant is to think of Queen Anne lifting her skirt and showing off her hairy legs. She would surely never have done such a thing, but Queen Anne’s lace has hairy stems and the image helps you remember the fact.
Positive identification is mandatory when harvesting any plant, but especially when dealing with a plant like hemlock. Even one small taste is enough to kill you, so no mistakes are allowed. Once you know the plant well, you will have no problem identifying them. Meanwhile, please take the time to compare all the identifying characteristics. I hope this article helps.
You may also like: