Cicuta bulbifera

Bulb Bearing Water Hemlock

Cicuta bulbifera, Bulb Bearing Water Hemlock, Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook
Bulb Bearing Water Hemlock
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Cicuta, Latin for "hemlock, poison from the hemlock"
  • bulbifera, from the Greek, bolbos (bolbos), "bulbous root, bulb; onion", and the Latin, fero, "to bear"; hence, "bulb bearing".
  • Bulb Bearing Water Hemlock, from the appearance of the seed capsules
  • Other common names include Bulbous Water Hemlock


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae
        • Order Apiales
          • Family Apiaceae (Umbelliferaceae), the Parsley and Carrots, 2850 species in 275 genera of global distribution but mostly north temperate regions. Includes the common herbs anise, carrot, celery, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, and parsnip, as well as the highly toxic hemlocks.
            • Genus Cicuta, the Water Hemlocks
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 29459
  • Family Apiaceae characterised by alternate leaves, widening at the base into a sheath that clasps the stem. Stems often furrowed. Flowers usually compound, almost always concentrated in flat-topped umbels. Flowers have 5 petals, usually uneven, and 5 stamens. Seeds and fruit form below where the petals and stamen originate. Fruit two-chambered, separating into two, single-seed fruits at maturity. Some part of the plant usually has a strong aroma, due primarily to various oils produced by the plant.


  • An erect biennial or perennial of waters edge,12"-40" tallCicuta bulbifera leaf - Photo copyright by Earl J.S. Rook
  • Leaves alternate, all cauline (growing from stem), to 6" long and 4" wide, with very narrow leaflets, typically ¾"-3½" long. Uppermost leaves much smaller, with few if any subdivisions, and bearing small bulblets in leaf axils.
  • Stem slender, not thickened at the base.
  • Roots fibrous, or with a few thickened, tuberous roots.
  • Flower umbels often not produced, seldom to 6" wide; rays ½"-1" long; bracts none or few, narrow and inconspicuous; umbellets 3/8"-5/8" wide at maturity; bractlets several or rarely none, narrow.
  • Fruit a tiny, dry, seed capsule in upper leaf axils. Ripens August/September.


  • A waterside plant of pond margins, springs, and stream banks
  • Distinguished from Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) and Water Parsnip (Sium suave) by its narrow, linear leaflets (less than ¼" wide), and its signature bulblets in the upper leaf axils.
  • Because it is often difficult to clearly distinguish similar members of the Carrot/Parsley family from one another, and because some are highly toxic, it is always best to excercise caution and due prudence in dealing with these plants.


  • Newfoundland to British Columbia, south to Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Oregon.


  • Edges of ponds and shallow waters; moist soils.




  • POISON. Highly poisonous to humans and livestock. The tuberous roots, stem base, and young shoots are especially toxic.
  • Livestock poisoning from Water Hemlocks most common in dry areas of the western US, where grazing animals are drawn to low areas for green forage during dry spells.


  • Reproduces by seed
  • Flowers mid-summer


  • By seed


  • Not often cultivated due to its toxicity, though it can make for an interesting and unusual marginal plant in the water garden.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)



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Last updated on 14 April, 2004