LONGVIEW, Wash. – Twice in the past few weeks, poison hemlock may have sent a Longview, Wash., woman to the hospital after she came down with a mysterious illness after digging in her yard.
Poison Hemlock is one of the most poisonous plants in the country and eating just a small amount can kill a person within 15 minutes. However, some neighbors discovered you don't have to eat it for it to make you very sick.
Bill Brown, a self-admitted hillbilly from Kentucky, is an experienced outdoorsman who immediately knew this wasn't an ordinary weed. A University of Washington botanist confirmed what Brown already knew – his neighbor’s yard was surrounded by Poison Hemlock.
“That's enough to kill everyone in this neighborhood,” Brown said. ”One small bit of it will kill you dead if you ingest it.”
Even touching it or breathing the pollen can cause illness. That's why Brown warned his neighbor, Ken Meyers, whose wife – Lisa – had suffered stomach pains due to the plant. Lisa suffered from bouts of dizziness and convulsions after digging in her yard.
“All of a sudden, I'm just not feeling good,” Lisa Meyers said.
The third day of the illness was particularly painful for Lisa Meyers, who had “crumpled over so bad,” Ken Meyers said.
“She said it felt like it was on fire,” Ken Meyers said of his wife.
Lisa Meyers had been digging for worms to feed her pet bearded dragon, while her husband cut the weeds and spread the plant's deadly toxins.
“I know for a fact, a 100 percent, these plants put her in the hospital,” Ken Meyers said.
Now the Meyers – along with Brown – want to warn others about the poisonous plant that resembles a fern on the top of the weed that can look so innocent. A key way to identify this poisonous plant is purple spots on the stem; meanwhile, the base easily could be mistaken for rhubarb.
As a toxic weed that flourished in the wet spring weather, Brown found a patch a few blocks away off Longview's industrial drive. He pointed it out with the hope that others will recognize it and stay away.
“But if this saves one person's life, yes, I'm doing my job,” Brown said.
Brown and the Meyers know a woman in Tacoma, Wash., who died this year after accidentally putting hemlock into her salad.
“I'm still worried I'm going to get sick again,” Lisa Meyers said. “And a third time, I don't know what's going to happen.”