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Cicuta virosa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Cicuta
Species: C. virosa
Binomial name
Cicuta virosa

Cicuta virosa (Cowbane or Northern Water Hemlock) 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. In cross section the stems have one flat side and the other sides are rounded. 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 umbrella shaped inflorescences typical of the family. The many flowered umbellets have unequal pedicels that range from 5 to 11 cm long during fruiting. An oily, yellow liquid oozes from cuts to the stems and roots. This liquid has a rank smell resembling that of parsnips or carrots. The plant may be mistaken for parsnip due to its clusters of white tuberous roots.

It grows in wet meadows, along streambanks and other wet and marshy areas.



There has been some dispute whether it was a hemlock of the genus Cicuta or the genus Conium which was used in ancient Greece as state poison. This poison was administered as a method of capital punishment and certainly the Greek philosopher Socrates drank a cup of some kind of hemlock infusion at his execution in 399 BC. Cicuta virosa is however primarily a northern European species, rare or absent from the Mediterranean region, making its use in Greece unlikely. See Poison hemlock for more information.

The typical dose, however, was not always immediately fatal. Sometimes it was necessary to administer a second cup of the poison.

...having drunk all the Hemlock juice, the quantity was found insufficient and the executioner refused to prepare more unless he was paid 12 drachmas.
—from an account of the execution of Phocion

Considering the toxicity of Water Hemlock, this may be a case of misidentification.

In the past this plant has had a number of colorful names including Beaver-poison, Children's-bane, Snakeweed and Musquash-poison. [1]


The plant 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. Poisoning 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 usually unsuccessful.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the Northern United States, Canada from Newfoundland to the parallel of the southern boundary of Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the 102nd meridian. [S.l.]: Scribner.ISBN 0486226433 page 658.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Cicuta virosa


Classification System: APG II (down to family level)

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiospermae
Cladus: Eudicots
Cladus: core eudicots
Cladus: Asterids
Cladus: Euasterids II
Ordo: Apiales
Familia: Apiaceae
Subfamilia: Apioideae
Tribus: Oenantheae
Genus: Cicuta
Species: Cicuta virosa


Cicuta virosa L.


  • Species Plantarum 1:255. 1753
  • USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Data from 07-Oct-06]. [1]

Vernacular names

Česky: Rozpuk jízlivý
Deutsch: Wasserschierling
English: Cowbane or Northern Water Hemlock
Français: Ciguë aquatique
Nederlands: Waterscheerling
‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Selsnepe
‪Norsk (nynorsk)‬: Selsnepe
Polski: Szalej jadowity
Suomi: Myrkkykeiso
Svenska: Sprängört
Türkçe: Su baldıranı
Wikimedia Commons For more multimedia, look at Cicuta virosa on Wikimedia Commons.


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