Common name: Cowbane, Northern Water Hemlock
Botanical name: Cicuta virosa Family: Apiaceae (Carrot family)
Cowbane is a species of Cicuta, native to northern
and central Europe, northern Asia and northwestern North America. It is a
perennial herbaceous plant which grows up to 1–2 m tall. The stems are smooth,
branching, swollen at the base, purple-striped, and hollow except for
partitions at the junction of the leaves and stem. The leaves are alternate,
tripinnate, only coarsely toothed, unlike the ferny, lacy leaves found in many
other members of the family Apiaceae. The flowers are small, white and
clustered in the umbrella shape so familiar to this family. An oily, yellow
liquid oozes from cuts to the stems and roots. This liquid has a rank smell
resembling that of parsnips, carrots or mice. The plant may be mistaken for
parsnip due to its clusters of white tuberous roots.
The yellow resin contains cicutoxin, which disrupts the workings of the
central nervous system. In humans, cicutoxin rapidly produces symptoms of
nausea, emesis and abdominal pain, typically within 60 minutes of ingestion.
This can lead to tremors and seizures. A single bite of the root (which has
the highest concentration of cicutoxin) can be sufficient to cause death. In
animals the toxic dose and the lethal dose are nearly the same. One gram of
water hemlock per kilogram of weight will kill a sheep and 230 grams is
sufficient to kill a horse. Due to the rapid onset of symptoms, treatment is
not usually successful.
Identification credit: Shaista Ahmad
|Photographed in Hisar, Haryana.|