Raptors like to hunt in the flat, grassy areas of the region. The low grasses make it easier for the birds to spot a meal of rabbits and squirrels. But hemlock can grow up to 6 feet tall, making for dense rodent cover where raptors are trying to eke out a meal in spots such as Whittier Narrows. “The hawks cannot hunt in that area,” Allen said. “When the hawks go someplace else, you start losing the whole chain.” During the winter months hemlock dies off, leaving behind hulking, brown skeletons to dry in the winter sun. “It becomes a serious fire problem,” Allen said. But it is hemlock’s dark reputation that captures the imagination. Shakespeare mentioned it in several of his plays. The weed is one ingredient in the nutty crown King Lear wears on his head when he goes bonkers and runs for the woods. Perhaps it’s most famous as the likely ingredient in the fatal brew served to the condemned philosopher Socrates. Ancient Greeks frequently used hemlock to kill off convicted criminals. All parts of the hemlock plant are deadly at all times during its life cycle. “It can cause paralysis, convulsions and, of course, even death if the intake is sufficient,” said Dr. Martin Stoner, a 38-year professor of plant pathology, mycology and economic botany at Cal Poly Pomona. It’s a plant best left alone, but there is a curious breed of person who insist upon eating wild plants and run the risk of poisoning. “A lot of people go out and want to try everything,” Strong said. Stoner volunteers for a poison hotline, and although he has never heard of any local hemlock poisonings, it is not too uncommon for folks to nibble at other deadly flora in the region. [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2717160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, witch’s mummy, maw and a gulf, of the ravin’d salt sea shark, root of hemlock digg’d in the dark …” Wolves and sharks are not much of a threat in the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier areas these days, but we are home to one of the deadly ingredients of the witch’s brew conjured in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Hemlock, the poison herb of legend, has quietly invaded the region. The stuff grows in practically every lowland where there is water and a little shade. According to plant expert Jane Strong of the Mount Baldy Nature Center, hemlock can be found in Whittier Narrows, Eaton Canyon, Whittier Hills, Skyline Trail in the Puente Hills, Monrovia Canyon and the Lower Arroyo Seco. It’s better-liked relatives are carrots, parsley, cilantro, fennel, angelica, parsnips, caraway and chervil. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson Hemlock blooms around late April to early May, but right now it’s in a gremlin stage – a cute, furry little thing similar to a carrot top or parsley. “You know what it’s going to become,” said Grace Allen, a guide at the Whittier Narrows Nature Center in South El Monte. Hemlock’s deadly toxicity, ugly looks and pungent smell aren’t the only reasons the plant is considered problematic. Hemlock is considered an invasive species from the Mediterranean. “It’s pushing out our native grasses,” Allen said. Hemlock is much taller and stronger than the native grasses and is quickly overtaking “raptor fields,” the hunting grounds for red-tailed hawks and American kestrels.