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Oenanthe crocata (*)

Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Eudicots
Cladus: Core eudicots
Cladus: Asterids
Cladus: Campanulids
Ordo: Apiales

Familia: Apiaceae
Subfamilia: Apioideae
Tribus: Oenantheae
Genus: Oenanthe
Species: Oenanthe crocata

Oenanthe crocata L., 1753

Oenanthe apiifolia Brot.
Oenanthe crocata var. apiifolia (Brot.) D. Gut.
Oenanthe crocata var. apiifolia (Brot.) Pérez Lara
Oenanthe crocata var. broteri Merino
Oenanthe crocata var. longissima Reduron
Oenanthe crocata var. macrosciadia (Willk.) Lange
Oenanthe crocata var. oligactis Lange
Oenanthe crocata var. tenuisecta Merino
Oenanthe gallaecica Pau & Merino
Oenanthe macrosciadia Willk.
Oenanthe prolifera L.
Phellandrium plinii Bub.


Oenanthe crocata Kit. = Oenanthe banatica Heuffel

Native distribution areas:

Continental: Europe
Belgium, Baleares (Mallorca, Menorca), England, Corsica, France, Ireland (incl. Northern Ireland), Spain, +Italy, Portugal, Sardinia, Morocco, Turkey (S-Anatolia, SSW-Anatolia), East Aegaean Isl., Rhodos
Continental: Asie
Israel (coastal W-Israel, Rift Valley, N-Israel), Lebanon (C-Lebanon, coastal W-Lebanon), Syria (coastal W-Syria, NW-Syria)

References: Brummitt, R.K. 2001. TDWG – World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions, 2nd Edition

Linnaeus, C. 1753. Species Plantarum. Tomus I: 254. Reference page.


Hassler, M. 2018. Oenanthe crocata. World Plants: Synonymic Checklists of the Vascular Plants of the World In: Roskovh, Y., Abucay, L., Orrell, T., Nicolson, D., Bailly, N., Kirk, P., Bourgoin, T., DeWalt, R.E., Decock, W., De Wever, A., Nieukerken, E. van, Zarucchi, J. & Penev, L., eds. 2018. Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2018 Aug. 24. Reference page.
International Plant Names Index. 2018. Oenanthe crocata. Published online. Accessed: Aug. 24 2018.
The Plant List 2013. Oenanthe crocata in The Plant List Version 1.1. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2018 Aug. 24. 2018. Oenanthe crocata. Missouri Botanical Garden. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2018 Aug. 24.
USDA, ARS, Germplasm Resources Information Network. Oenanthe crocata in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Accessed: 07-Oct-06.

Vernacular names
Deutsch: Safranrebendolde
English: Hemlock Water Dropwort
suomi: Viuhkapahaputki
français: Œnanthe Safranée, Navet du Diable
Nederlands: Dodemansvingers

Oenanthe crocata, the hemlock water-dropwort, also known as dead man's fingers,[1] is a flowering plant in the carrot family, Apiaceae, native to the British Isles, Western Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. All parts of the plant are extremely toxic and have been implicated in several cases of livestock poisoning. The toxic leaves and stems look like parsley; the highly toxic roots look and smell like parsnips.[1]


Hemlock water-dropwort is a robust hairless perennial growing up to 150 cm tall and with hollow, cylindrical grooved stems up to 1 cm across. The 3-4 times pinnate leaves are triangular, with oval toothed leaflets that are basally tapered to the stalk[2] and a characteristically deceptive smell of parsley or celery.[3]

This species usually flowers June – July. The white, mostly hermaphroditic flowers have unequal petals and measure 2mm in width.[4] They are borne in many-rayed umbels that are almost spherical and measure 5 – 10 cm across. The numerous bracts and bracteoles soon fall off during flowering.[5] The cylindrical fruits are 4 – 6 mm long, with styles measuring 2 mm in length. The roots are pale yellow and composed of 5 or more fleshy tubers that exude yellowish fluid when cut that stains the skin.
Distribution and habitat

Hemlock water-dropwort is native to the British Isles, although only common locally in the south and west and rarer or absent elsewhere. The native range extends from Britain, Belgium and Netherlands down to southwestern Europe, the western Mediterranean and North Africa.[6] It grows in shallow freshwater in streams, marshes, lakes, ponds, canals, wet woodland and on riverbanks as well as in rocky coastal streams.[3] The plant is usually a calcifuge, and as a lowland species it nearly always occurs below 300 m.[3]

The toxic principle in the plant is oenanthotoxin, a polyunsaturated higher alcohol that is a potent convulsant and resembles cicutoxin, the toxic constituent in hemlock. The plant is very poisonous to humans and livestock and can cause imminent death if poisoning is left untreated after ingestion. Symptoms in livestock include increased salivation, dilated pupils, respiratory distress, and convulsions. Cattle poisoning from this plant occurs sporadically. For example, several cases were reported during the 1995 drought in the West Country, England. Due to the shortage of grass in the fields, the cattle were driven to graze by ditches where hemlock water-dropwort grew.[7] More occasional instances of human poisoning have also been reported, in which the plant roots consumed were mistaken for wild parsnip and the leaves for wild celery.[7][8] Symptoms in humans include nausea, vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, ataxia, and respiratory distress.[9]

The roots are the most toxic part of the plant, with toxin concentrations being highest in winter and spring.[9] Boiling the roots seems to both lessen the severity of the symptoms and prolong the delay after which they appear following ingestion.[8]
Uses and in culture

Scientists at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy wrote that they had identified Oenanthe crocata as the plant responsible for producing the sardonic grin.[10][11] This plant is a possible candidate for the "sardonic herb", which was a neurotoxic plant referred to in ancient histories. It was purportedly used for the ritual killing of elderly people and criminals in Nuragic Sardinia. The subjects were intoxicated with the herb and then dropped from a high rock or beaten to death.[12][13]

The essential oils from the seeds of O. crocata have been shown to have moderate antibacterial effect against Streptococcus faecalis and Bacillus lentus.[14] The oils are also anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-fungal (esp. against Cryptococcus neoformans), and they have been suggested for use in counteracting inflammatory diseases.[15]
Similar species

The hemlock water-dropwort shares a genus with many other superficially similar European water-dropworts, all of which are poisonous but not deadly.

Brown, Mark (1 November 2021). "Public told to avoid potentially deadly plant washed up on Cumbria beaches". The Guardian.
Rose F. 2006. The Wildflower Key. Warne.
Newman J. 2005. CEH Information Sheet 31: Oenanthe crocata (Hemlock Water-Dropwort).
Tutin TG. 1980. Umbellifers of the British Isles. BSBI Handbook No. 2.
Gibbons B, Brough P. 2008. Guide to Wildflowers of Britain and Northern Europe. Philips
Streeter D, Hart-Davis C, Hardcastle A, Cole F, Harper L. 2009. Collins Wildflower Guide. HarperCollins.
Mabey R. 1996. Flora Britannica. Random House.
Downs C, Philips J, Ranger G, Farrel L. 2002. A hemlock water-dropwort curry: a case of multiple poisoning. Emergency Medical Journal 19: 472 – 473.
Ball MJ, Flather ML, Forfar JC. 1987. Hemlock water dropwort poisoning. Postgraduate Medical Journal 63: 363 – 365.
News Scan Briefs: Killer Smile, Scientific American, August 2009
G. Appendino; F. Pollastro; L. Verotta; M. Ballero; A. Romano; P. Wyrembek; K. Szczuraszek; J. W. Mozrzymas & O. Taglialatela-Scafati (2009). "Polyacetylenes from Sardinian Oenanthe fistulosa: A Molecular Clue to risus sardonicus". Journal of Natural Products. 72 (5): 962–965. doi:10.1021/np8007717. PMC 2685611. PMID 19245244.
Appendino, Giovanni; Pollastro, Federica; Verotta, Luisella; Ballero, Mauro; Romano, Adriana; Wyrembek, Paulina; Szczuraszek, Katarzyna; Mozrzymas, Jerzy W.; Taglialatela-Scafati, Orazio (2009-05-22). "Polyacetylenes from Sardinian Oenanthe fistulosa: A Molecular Clue to risus sardonicus". Journal of Natural Products. 72 (5): 962–965. doi:10.1021/np8007717. ISSN 0163-3864. PMC 2685611. PMID 19245244.
Owen, James (2009-06-02). "Ancient Death-Smile Potion Decoded?". National Geographic News. Archived from the original on 2009-09-18. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
Bonsignore L, Casu L, Loy G, Deidda D, Genco F. 2004. Analysis of the essential oil of Oenanthe crocata L. and its biological activity. Journal of Essential Oil Research, 16(3): 266-269.
Valente J, Zuzarte M, Gonçalves MJ, Lopes MC. Cavaleiro C, Salgueiro L, Cruz MT. 2013. Antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities of Oenanthe crocata L. essential oil. Food and chemical toxicology 62: 349-354.

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