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White Wildflowers: a Warning

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Do you know your white wildflowers?

There are any number of blooming white wildflowers. And, some are very distinct. But, others may be difficult to differentiate. For instance, can you tell the difference between relatively innocuous and possibly edible Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and its terribly toxic Apiaceae cousins poison hemlock (Conicum maculatum) or giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)?

Or for that matter, can you tell the difference between these and their highly cultivated vegetable garden cousins the simple carrot or cilantro?

You’re not alone if you don’t know one from the other.

Even highly trained horticulturists may find themselves stumped by similar looking plants. So, just being aware that lookalikes exist is a first step. And using caution when plucking wildflowers on a trail is also important.

soldier beetles breeding on white wildflower Queen Anne's lace

This white wildflower is Queen Anne’s lace, an important breeding ground for beneficial soldier beetles.

An example of white wildflowers that can stump us…

In summer when I walk our nearby beach trails, I thrill to the sight of all the wildflowers in bloom.

Delicate Queen Anne’s lace is one of the many. And, it’s a flower I’ve encountered all my life in wild settings from the Virginia countryside to the hillsides of northern California to the PacNW bay that I now call home. That’s because this non-native carrot family member has made itself at home throughout the United States. In fact, it’s so happy here, it’s been declared noxious by many states.

Still, noxious or not, the flowers of this beauty are a magnet for important pollinators that both feed and breed on it. And, many gather it for home apothecaries and cooking.

But, it’s troublesome relatives live at the beach too.

But, not far from the Queen Anne’s lace, and interspersed with it throughout the trail, are sprouts of its more dangerous cousins. Fortunately, by summer, the nearby towers of giant hogweed are past their bloom cycle. So, realizing that this toxic plant blooms earlier in spring helps keep us safe.

But, intermittent wispy sprouts of poison hemlock can masquerade among the profusion of Queen Anne’s lace. And, it can be tricky, because these are both summer flowering white wildflowers. Moreover, one is harvested for bouquets and even food. And the other is deadly toxic.

poison hemlock white wildflowers

This white wildflower is poison hemlock.

So, just a word of caution…

If in doubt, don’t pluck it out. In fact, don’t even touch it.

That giant hogweed could burn and blind you. And, the poison hemlock could, well, poison you — to death. Instead, leave these umbels of white to dance in the breeze and provide habitat for pollinators.

Take a picture. As they say, “it’ll last longer.”

(Of course, if any of these unwanted dangers pop up in your home garden or neighborhood, do your research to learn how to safely eradicate them before they take hold.)

What about other white wildflowers?

There are many other while wildflowers. And not all of them are in the carrot family of plants. Plus, many bloom on shrubs and trees instead of on annual or perennials.

The beautiful snowberry bush produces white-pink flowers in spring. And pollinators adore them.

In fact, if you’re interested in attracting more hummingbirds or bumblebees to your garden, this might be a great plant to add to your garden. (Of course it also blooms wild in many areas too.)

And if you’re still looking for more info on white wildflowers? 

Sign up for our online learning programs where we impart many lessons including details on all sorts of native plants and weeds. So for instance, we’ll introduce you to ways to manage them and make the most of just about any plant you encounter!

2 comments on “White Wildflowers: a Warning

  1. MARK BENTON on

    i HAVE JUST FOUND THAT HOGWEED HAS GOT INTO MY GARDEN POND AND AM VERY WORRIED ABOUT HOW TO REMOVE IT.HELP PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Garden Mentors on

    Mark, You might want to reach out to your local county extension office, conservation district or noxious weed board for assistance managing this dangerous plant. Good luck!

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