Time of bloom: June to July.
Seed-time: August to September.
Range: New England and Middle Atlantic States, westward to Michigan and Indiana, southward to Virginia. Also in California and Louisiana.
Habitat: Moist soil; waste places.
All parts of this plant are exceedingly poisonous. Every year domestic animals are killed by eating its young leaves in the spring, children have died from mistaking its seeds for fennel or caraway, and the close resemblance of its leaves to those of parsley sometimes is the cause of fatal poisoning. This is said to be the herb which furnished the "Cup of death" given to Socrates in Ancient Athens. The plant is used in medicine for diseases of the nervous system, and to supply the demands of the drug trade about thirty thousand pounds of its seeds and fifteen to twenty thousand pounds of its dried leaves are annually imported, at a cost of about three cents a pound for the seeds and four cents for the leaves. Probably the home-grown product would be as readily purchased if properly cured. (Fig. 209.)
According to the fertility of the soil, the height of the plant varies from two to five feet. Stem smooth, erect, much branched, hollow, often purple-spotted. Leaves pinnate and thrice divided, the segments finely cut and toothed. Flower clusters terminal, in large, open, compound umbels, composed of many small um-bellets of tiny white flowers, five-petaled, the large umbel and its parts subtended by small, narrow bracts. Fruit consisting of two dry, seedlike carpels, cohering by their inner face, grayish brown when ripe, about one-eighth of an inch long, ovoid, flattened at the side, prominently ribbed, and having on the flattened surface a deep, narrow groove. The whole plant has a very disagreeable "mousy" odor, especially when bruised.
Grub it out, "root and branch," and destroy it. So dangerous a neighbor should never be allowed on any farm land, and in particular the roads of the countryside should be free from its presence.