Bulblet Water Hemlock is a native, erect perennial, growing from 12 to 40 inches high on slender hollow stems with limited widely spaced branching. Stems are smooth and light green to slightly reddish.
The leaves are alternate, widely spaced, 1 to 3 times pinnately divided into narrow leaflets with widely spaced ragged teeth. Lower leaves may be up to one foot long with long stalks and at least bi-pinnate while the upper leaves are much shorter, sometimes stalkless and usually simple-pinnate.
The inflorescence is a compound umbel of many clusters on long stalks from the leaf axils. The umbel can have 8 to 10+ umbellets with up to 15 flowers each, with the whole compound umbel spanning about 2 to 4 inches across. The stalks of the umbellets are of unequal length giving the entire cluster a domed but uneven appearance. Beneath the umbel and each umbellet are several thin pointed bracts.
Each flower is only 1/8 inch wide with 5 white petals that are notched at the rounded tip and very narrowed at the base. These and the sepals are attached to a yellow-green disc that is the upper part of a double ovary. There are 5 stamens with white filaments, inserted on the disc and 2 styles on the ovary. Stamens are placed in-between the petals.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce an ovoid flattened fruit, notched at the apex, that contains the seed. In addition this plant produces small bulbils in the leaf joints of the upper part of the plant, which is a unique identifying feature.
Toxic: This plant is poisonous. See text below.
Habitat: Bulblet Water Hemlock grows from a fleshy tuberous root system. It will be found in the wet soils of marshes, open swamps and meadows. It can tolerate standing or slow moving water. It spreads by re-seeding and by the bulbils.
Names: The genus, Cicuta, is an old Latin name for the poison hemlock. The species, bulbifera, is used to refer to bulbil forming plants. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: C. bulbifera is unique in the genus in having the bulbils growing in the upper leaf axils. The flower structure is similar to the other member of the Cicuta genus found in Minnesota - Water Hemlock, C. maculata, but that plant is taller and the leaflets are much broader and it lacks the bulbils. Two non-native plants that have similar flower umbels that can be compared are Fool's Parsley, Aethusa cynapium and Japanese Hedge Parsley, Torilis japonica.
Above: The inflorescence is a compound umbel with many clusters on long stalks from the leaf axils. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: 1st photo - Each flower is only 1/8 inch wide with 5 white petals that are notched at the rounded tip and very narrowed at the base. 2nd photo - An upper simple pinnate leaf showing the widely spaced coarse teeth.
Below: 1st photo - before the flowers open. The compound umbel can have up to 8 to 10+ umbellets with up to 15 flowers each, with the whole compound umbel spanning about 2 to 4 inches across. 2nd photo - view of underside of the attachment point of the umbel where there are several thin pointed bracts, which drop away before seed formation.
Below: 1st photo - The white petals have notched tips. Between them are the five stamens which rise from a yellow-green disc. There are two styles. 2nd and 3rd photos - Bulblet Water-hemlock has slender stems with limited widely spaced branching. Stems are smooth and light green to slightly reddish. The lower section of the stem is hollow. 3rd and 4th photos - the leaf sheath at the stem.
Below: Bulblet Water Hemlock produces small bulbils in the leaf joints of the upper part of the plant, which is a unique identifying feature. Many upper joints will have these.
Notes: Bulblet Water Hemlock is found is most counties of Minnesota except the drier SW section. In North America it is found in all of Canada and in the northern half of the U.S. The only other species of Cicuta in the state is Cicuta maculata, the very poisonous Water Hemlock.
Toxicity: Plants of the Cicuta genus are considered very poisonous. The green stem and leaves of C. bulbifera are poisonous and the roots are much more so, concentrating a poison known as 'cicutoxin'. Browsing cattle and sheep can easily be poisoned when browsing new green growth. A section of root the size of a walnut can kill a cow. Children are quite susceptible to the poison and ingestion causes cramps, vomiting and convulsions. Children and some adults have died from eating the roots. At a minimum there is damage to the central nervous system of adults. It is one of the most poisonous plants in North America; only C. maculata, Water Hemlock, is considered more poisonous.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"