Wicked Plants on the Loose!


First: Last week, I was fielding calls from local media about the difference between hemlock and cilantro and the possibility of getting them mixed up in the garden or in the field. This came up because a local farmer recalled cilantro after seeing wild hemlock sprouting in his fields and realizing that he had a less-experienced picker working at that end of the field.

It would be surprisingly easy to confuse hemlock with, say, chervil. Or parsley, or dill, or any number of carrot family relatives.  So–yeah.  Be careful out there.

Second:  In other local news, a tragic shooting in Mendocino County also led to a call from the local media. Sadly, stories of people stumbling into outdoor marijuana grows on public land or private timber company land are all too common, and they do end in shootings–these grows are guarded by people with guns, not laid-back hippies enjoying the sunshine.  In this case, though, the victim stumbled into an opium grow.  Except–there were only a hundred opium poppies in evidence.  Sounds more like Grandma's garden than a drug operation. 

Apparently local authorities were saying that no one grows opium poppies in California, so I went to great pains to assure the reporter that gardeners often grow opium poppies, that both the seeds and the plants are readily available, that they are lovely flowers and easy to find around here.  (In case you're curious:  Opium poppies, papaver somniferum, are illegal to grow.  The seeds may be bought, sold, possessed–because we use them in baking–but as soon as they germinate, you're a criminal.)

Third: Spotted in Montreal:  A glorious bed of poisonous castor bean!  At the Starbucks! Venti half-caf double ricin, anyone?

Montreal castor bean


  1. Re: Cilantro- the smell is the tell tale identifier; but for someone who’s never smelled it, I can see how it would remain a danger.

    That’s ridiculous, 100 plants. There must be some derangement or other criminal activity going on. I also thought P. somniferum was only illegal to harvest beyond the seed, but that may well vary from state to state. You’re even allowed to grow it “ornamentally” in Louisiana (the state with the most ridiculously draconian laws against PLANTS).

  2. Learning to ID plants is an important skill that people should have … just this last week, the contractor working at my house got into a mess of poison sumac (or so he thinks) at another project and was laid up for several days. So, either learn to ID plants and always wear gloves/protective clothing when working with questionable plants!

  3. In all my travels throughout the south I have only once seen a warning sign posted near Oleander. I’ve seen it planted in rows around picnic areas, playgrounds and even in planters in outdoor patios for fancy restaurants.

  4. Kaviana–Nope, opium poppies are 100% illegal to grow, nationwide. It’s federal law. Gardeners grow them regardless, and law enforcement generally doesn’t care, because there’s obviously nothing going on but gardening. Still. You can have the seeds, you just can’t germinate them. Legally.

  5. The most interesting legality-of-poppy story I’ve read had to do with a guy who had some poppies growing in a container on his deck. He quarreled with the neighbor and the neighbor reported his poppies to the sheriff. The sheriff confiscated the the poppies and the antique gun collection that was in the house. The poppies were destroyed and the sheriff kept the antique guns. I never read the outcome.

  6. Amy, thanks for the great picture of hemlock. I’ve been weeding those out for years, and always noticed the long taproot and wondered if it were something edible…now I know it’s not (and btw, I would never ever try to eat a plant I couldn’t absolutely identify first as being safe to eat).

  7. Scofflaw plants on the loose! Willfully scattering their seed on the winds, letting their offspring run wild in the gardens of innocent humans!
    There oughta be a law. . .

  8. Well, I am growing Papaver somniferum. Got the seeds from a fellow gardener. The flowers are lovely. I don’t save the seeds as the plants kindly reseed themselves. Nor do I do anything with the seed pods other than put them in my compost when the plants die in the fall.

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