Working in a small biotechnology company, Leah enjoys gardening and raising chickens in Western New York.
Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota)—also called wild carrot, bird's nest, and bishop's lace—is an herbaceous weed native to Europe and parts of Asia but can also be found in North America and Australia. Classified as a biennial plant, it flowers in its second year of growth—usually from spring to early fall.
It is most identifiable by its white, lacy flowers and isn't considered poisonous to humans. However, it is often mistaken for poisonous plants that share a similar appearance, like poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), so it is important to know how to properly identify Queen Anne's lace.
Queen Anne's Lace vs. Hemlock vs. Giant Hogweed
|Queen Anne's Lace||Poison Hemlock||Giant Hogweed|
Dense, flat-topped umbel (~5 in. diameter), usually with a purple flower in the center
Rounded umbel with flower clusters more spread out
Large, rounded umbel (~2.5 ft. diameter)
Hairy underside, matte, fern-like, and smells like parsley
Large and shiny with no hairs
Very large (~5 ft spread) coarse hairs underneath
Short, white hairs, no purple spots
Hairless, waxy, and purple spots
Purple spots and coarse, white hairs
Hairy, white, and smells like carrots
Hairless, purple blotches, and smells like mouse urine
Large, extensive taproot
Up to 4 ft. tall
Usually 3-8 ft. tall
Anywhere from 8-20 ft. tall
Queen Anne's Lace Look-Alikes
- Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
- Water hemlock or cowbane (Cicuta spp.)
- Common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
- Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)
- Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum)
- Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)
- Wild celery or garden angelica (Angelica archangelica)
- Wild parsnips (Pastinaca sativa)
Which Ones Are Poisonous?
From this list, poison hemlock, water hemlock, and giant hogweeds are the most poisonous—to livestock, pets, and humans.
Queen Anne's lace (wild carrot), common hogweed, cow parsnip, cow parsley, wild celery, and wild parsnips are often used as food and/or medicine. However, you should be careful of which parts are harvested. Their sap can cause severe skin burns and blisters with exposure to the sun.
It's also important to note that, despite being edible, wild carrot seeds have anti-fertility properties (inhibiting implantation of the embryo) and have been used throughout history for contraception and abortion. Although further studies are needed to fully understand these effects, women who are or plan to have a child should avoid consuming wild carrots—particularly the seeds.
How to Tell If It's Queen Anne's Lace
- Look at the Flowers: They'll be arranged in small clusters that are tightly packed together in an umbrella-like shape (umbel) with a flat top (think inside-out umbrella). Oftentimes, there will also be one purple flower at the center of the umbel. Poison hemlock flowers are arranged loosely in a rounded umbel.
- Examine the Stems: They'll have entirely green stems with no discoloration (unless they're dying or diseased). In addition, they'll be covered in short, coarse, white hairs. Poison hemlock stems are smooth and have purple spots and blotches throughout.
- Check the Leaves: The leaves have a matte, fern-like appearance, with hairs on the underside. If you rub them between your fingers, they'll produce a carrot- or parsley-like aroma. The leaves on poison hemlocks will produce an off-putting odor similar to mouse urine.
- Smell the Roots: The smell of Queen Anne's lace lives up to the name of wild carrot because it really does smell like carrots! On the other hand, poison hemlock roots are rank and smell like parsnips, although to some, they can also smell like carrots.
- Look for Bracts: Bracts are modified leaves that usually appear at the base of the flower. The Queen Anne's lace has long, three-pronged bracts underneath the umbel while the poison hemlock doesn't.
Why Proper Plant Identification Is Important
Queen Anne’s lace flowers, seeds, and roots are all edible—either raw or cooked. The seeds are also reported to have medicinal properties. In addition, it is often used in classroom experiments (the flower heads will change color when the fresh cut stems are exposed to dyed water). However, because the plant so closely resembles highly toxic plants like hemlocks and giant hogweeds, many people have unwittingly poisoned themselves and others.
How Deadly Is Hemlock?
Although it isn't very harmful to touch poison hemlock, the oils from the stem, leaves, and flowers may still cause skin irritation, including itching and burning. It is, however, highly toxic to ingest because it contains coniine, an alkaloid compound that blocks the central nervous system's ability to communicate with muscles and other organs. Symptoms of poisoning will appear within an hour and include:
- burning sensation along the digestive tract
- increased saliva
- increased heart rate followed by decreased heart rate
- rapid breathing followed by slowed breathing
- loss of motor control
- convulsions and seizures followed by muscle weakness or paralysis
In severe cases, hemlock poisoning may result in death, primarily through respiratory failure. There are currently no antidotes, and treatments are primarily targeted at the most life-threatening symptoms (e.g. artificial ventilation or anti-seizure medication).
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or others, seek emergency medical attention right away.
What Happens If You Touch Giant Hogweed?
Unlike poison ivy, simply touching or brushing up against giant hogweeds won't do anything. However, it's the sap mixed with sunlight that can cause a severe inflammatory reaction (phytophotodermatitis) on your skin, causing extremely painful burns and blisters that last for several days, and darkened skin and scars that can last for several months. It can even lead to blindness if the victim inadvertently touches their eyes. The reaction starts when a compound in the sap (furocoumarin) gets activated by exposure to UV rays from sunlight. Symptoms develop gradually from 1-3 days after exposure.
If you accidentally get giant hogweed sap on your skin, wash it off immediately with cold, soapy water, or cover up the area until you can wash it off. If you notice any of the symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Stay Safe: Know Your Plants
Unless you are experienced with identifying the differences between wild carrot and hemlock, it is best to avoid picking the plants for consumption. Many people have accidentally consumed hemlock because they confuse the leaves for parsley (an alternate name for hemlock is poison parsley), or the seeds for anise.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I picked some Queen Ann's Lace bloom to make jelly. Some say it has a purple dot in the center; others say a red dot. I have seen both. Which one is it?
Answer: A sterile floret is present on many Queen Anne's Lace flowers, and this floret may appear purple or red. The floral heads of the plant contain up to 40,000 florets per plant, and the central floret is often sterile and red or purple.
Question: When any of the plants you mentioned go to seed, do they make tiny burs that cling to our socks and clothing and are annoyingly difficult to remove?
Answer: Queen Anne's Lace does not form these burs, but there are other plants which have lacy white flowers and do form burrs. The tiny burrs are more likely from a plant called hedge parsley (Torilis arvensis) or "Beggar's Lice" (Hackelia virginiana). These plants look similar to Queen Anne's Lace, but form burrs which stick to clothing.
Question: You mention the bracts on QAL and not poison hemlock. What about cow parsley and giant hogweed--do they have bracts?
Answer: Poison Hemlock and Giant Hogweed do not have the same lacy bracts that spray out from just under the flower head of Queen Anne's Lace. This is only one differentiating characteristic of the plants. Poison Hemlock also has a pungent smell when the leaves are crushed. Giant Hogweed is extremely large, measuring several feet tall, while Queen Anne's Lace is generally under two feet in height.
Question: What is sour grass ?
Answer: Sour grass is a form of oxalis. I grew up in Southern California and we loved picking the flower stems and sucking on the juice of the stems! The sour flavor comes from oxalic acid, so those who are prone to kidney stones should probably avoid eating too much of the plant.
© 2011 Leah Lefler
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 26, 2019:
Verifying plant identity is so important, Patti! We have hemlock, giant hogsweed, and other look-alikes in our general area. It is vital to know the difference between the native (and benign) Queen Anne's Lace vs. the invasive or poisonous plants with a similar appearance!
Patti on July 24, 2019:
Exactly. Double and triple check ALL aspects of a description...including pictures in all stages of the plants life. Research, research and research again folks!♡♡♡
BillCubb on June 20, 2019:
I love when the Lace blooms beside the roads and in fields each summer. So beautiful!. We have a field across the street from our house that is full. I cut them for the house. I also wanted to have it grow on a corner of my yard but have scattered the flowers there with no results. Anybody know if the white flowerets are seeds or is it maybe just the red center flower?
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 29, 2018:
Cow parsley is a relative of poison hemlock (Anthriscus sylvestris) and does not have the bracts beneath the flowers. Cow parsley is not deadly like poison hemlock, but has an unpleasant flavor. Giant hogweed (Heracleum) also lacks the bracts and is distinctive because of its size. Giant hogweed is often taller than a human, while Queen Anne's Lace is a small, flowering plant that grows from 1-4 feet tall.
Lynda Lee on July 26, 2018:
You mention the bracts on QAL and not poison hemlock. What about cow parsley and giant hogweed - do they have bracts? Thanks so much for your page compiling this information in an easily accesible format!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 13, 2018:
Those "stick tights" are often the result of a plant called hedge parsley (Torilis arvensis), an invasive plant also known as "beggar's lice." This plant has lacy white florettes, but is quite annoying as it produces the burrs that stick to people and pets. Queen Anne's Lace does not form burrs, but forms a seed head that tumbles off the plant and reseeds freely in nature. I hope this helps!
Mizbejabbers on July 12, 2018:
Leah, I tremendously enjoyed this article, and it makes me curious. One thing that was not mentioned is whether any of these plants go to seed and make little "stick tites". That's what we call the tiny burs in my area of the South. Their source is a plant that looks and smells like a wild carrot. They are so annoying that I try to destroy all of them in my yard before we humans and our pets bring them into the house. I don't think they have the purple flower in the middle of a cluster, but I haven't looked for that either. Thanks for the enlightenment.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 21, 2013:
Thanks, Karine Gordineer! It is important to know the difference. It would be interesting to know the percentage of deaths vs. users, since the use of pharmaceuticals is nearly universal and fewer people use Queen Anne's Lace as a food or medication source (and therefore fewer would be available to misidentify Hemlock for it). Still, deaths due to pharmaceuticals is a significant problem due to pharmacy errors, overdosages, and side effects. I know there was recently a black box warning placed on Tylenol with Codeine for children who have tonsillectomies, as some children have died as a consequence of breathing difficulties (a side effect of the narcotic).
The differences are fairly obvious if you know what to look for. Children may not immediately recognize the difference, or unsuspecting, novice wild herb seekers.
Karine Gordineer from Upstate New York on March 21, 2013:
Hi Leah - Very interesting and important hub especially since most often children are the unfortunate victims of mis-identification. I might disagree with the video, however. He indicates that you might read about "many poisonings" - there really aren't many about 100 a year worldwide and then especially when compared with the approximate 850,000 a year deaths related to pharmaceuticals - it's really not many although I absolutely agree that it's important to know exactly which plant we're looking at. One another point to note is most of the wild growing Angelica is (Angelica atropurpurea). The garden variety and transplant from Europe is A.archangelica but both names are often used interchangeably so more of a point of interest than anything but once again another fabulously interesting, well written and thorough hub!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 16, 2012:
Our Queen Anne's Lace usually has insects in the center, too! Dirt Farmer, I think I had to brush a few off to get the picture of the one above! The purple heart may not be visible on very young flowers.
Jill Spencer from United States on July 15, 2012:
I've never noticed the purple at the center of Queen Anne's Lace as there's always an insect there. Now I know why! Interesting hub.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 04, 2012:
I really want to get that book, Pamela. I just realized we have an Elderberry bush growing in our woods - I had no idea it was there until recently! I don't know if I'll get enough berries to make jam this year, but I'll try!
Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on July 01, 2012:
Euell Gibbons has some great books on edible plants. I have one of his books but haven't eaten many wild plants. Dandelion is one I know I can identify and feel safe eating.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 18, 2012:
Fred, I had read about cow parsley before - I think there are a few Hemlock deaths attributed to a confusion between the two plants. It is so very scary to think of anyone making that mistake! There are definite distinctions between Queen Anne's Lace and Hemlock, but some people still get confused. I have a recipe for making jelly out of Queen Anne's Lace, so I REALLY wanted to make sure people knew the difference!
Fred on June 18, 2012:
Hemlock looks slightly like wild carrot, but bares a far closer resemblance to cow parsley, which is edible.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 22, 2011:
This is a very interesting hub. I had no idea of the similarities between Queen Anne's Lace and Hemlock. We used to pick (not sure which one) bouquets of wildflowers when we were kids and had one of these in the mixture. Thanks for this informative hub!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 03, 2011:
I'll have to check it out. There are so many edible plants, but people need to know how to identify the safe, edible versions from plants which might be highly toxic! We live in an area with lots of nightshade and other toxic plants (including hemlock), so we are very keen on teaching our boys to recognize the native plants!
ThePelton from Martinsburg, WV USA on September 03, 2011:
Let me recommend a book. "Edible Wild Plants of the Rocky Mountains" by Seebeck.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 30, 2011:
I've never tried to eat the roots of Queen Anne's Lace (apparently they have to be VERY juvenile to eat the roots, otherwise they're woody). The roots should smell like carrots, too. The roots will also be thin, not thick like real carrots (but they are edible if the plant is very young). Fortunately, we don't have chiggers this far north!
Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 30, 2011:
This is a very interesting Hub and I also learned a lot. Queen Anne's lace is beautiful. When I was a kid, we got lots of chiggers from it. I am going to look for some and check the roots. Thanks so much. I love to learn.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 30, 2011:
Sometimes the heart isn't visible (the purple heart fades after the flower is fertilized), but if you crush the leaves it will have a distinct carrot-like smell. Hemlock smells terrible, and that is the easiest way to distinguish the two. I've made jelly out of the flowers of Queen Anne's Lace, which is delicious (tastes a bit like honey). You definitely wouldn't want to confuse the flowers with Hemlock, though!
Dawn Conklin from New Jersey, USA on August 30, 2011:
Great hub, thank you for the info! I had no idea there was a poisonous version. We do not pick it for consumption, I actually didn't know Queen Anne's Lace was edible and I didn't know it was a form of a wild carrot. I learn something new everyday! We just use the flowers to change their colors. My kids know not to consume any plant unless I give it to them. I will have to look for the heart in the center next time!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 30, 2011:
Hemlock looks very similar on a casual glance, but it is actually quite different! The flowers of hemlock are slightly separated on the umbrels, and don't curl up like the "bird's nests" of Queen Anne's Lace. We live in an area that has the potential for both plants, so we constantly teach our boys about the difference. Fortunately, I have checked our yard and we have wild carrot and not hemlock throughout the yard.
Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on August 30, 2011:
What excellent info. I had no idea there was another plant so similar to Queen Anne's Lace. We have it all around our yard. Now I am going to go to check to see which plants we have. Thanks for this informative hub. Voted up and useful.