Here's an old repost of mine from herb@trearn.bitnet:

I teach extreme caution in identifying Umbelliferaes.  Wild Carrot or
Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota, doesn't grow near Water
Hemlock, Cicuta sp. This is good, as most of the time they cannot be
mistaken because they don't grow together. The Daucus likes dry,
disturbed areas and the Cicuta likes standing water. Cicuta is often
found in ditches, marshes, and the wet muck. It's roots have horizontal
partitions in them, creating little pockets; however, cutting the root
open may cause poisoning on broken skin. Besides, although the
roots may not look alike GENERALLY, there's always the chance that
the Cicuta has a taproot-like root in an odd circumstance, without the
partitions, and that the Daucus doesn't form a taproot in an odd
circumstance. Poisoning can be fatal, so don't guess or go by roots.
Especially Umbelliferae Roots. Trained botanist have been poisoned
by mistaking Umbelliferae roots. Also, in an unusual case, a wet ditch
may be right next to a dry disturbed area, putting these two plants
within feet of each other.

On the other, hand Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, is a very
different plant than Water Hemlock, Cicuta sp. It grows in the same
ecosystems as Daucus, and there is a great chance of mistaking the
two. Here are the field characteristics I use to tell the species apart:

Daucus carota:
1. Stem hairy
2. No purple spots on stem, but sometimes purple blotches
3. White root smells like a carrot.

Conium maculatum:
1. No hair on stems (glabrous)
2. Purple spots on stem
3. Root smells like urine at best.

Please use all three characteristics, not just one of them. The smells
of the Hemlocks seem to change depending on environmental and
other factors. I have smelled Hemlock seeds that have pleasant
fennel-like aromas. Do not use smell as the only identifying
characteristic! I have smelled poisonous groundsel roots, Senecio
triangularis, that have the musky bouquet of Valerian, Valeriana
sitchensis. Perhaps the fact that the Senecio was growing in a mat of
Valeriana had something to do with it.

The best way to tell these three plants apart is by seed. Botanists use
the different seed characteristics to identify species in this family, as
often the flowers alone are not enough to tell them apart. Daucus has
armed seeds, in other words, they have bristles and prickles that are
easily seen (and easily attached to wool sweaters). Cicuta and
Conium have unarmed seeds.

One last Daucus field characteristic. It often has a few purple flowers
in the center of the umbel (umbel-rella like flower arrangement). This
unique item is the botanical bulls-eye that insures pollinating insects
travel to the center of the umbel.


Never eat any plant that you do not have a positive ID for. Ask a local
herbarium at your nearest college for help in proper identification.

Howie Brounstein
C & W Herbs