Poison hemlock is spreading in parts of southeastern Minnesota, prompting warnings to avoid touching the toxic flowering weed and get immediate emergency help if it's ingested.

The weed, which is native to Europe and brought to North America as an ornamental plant, can grow 8 feet tall and has white clusters of flowers. It's now in bloom in parts of the state and sometimes is mistaken for wild carrot or toxic water hemlock. But poison hemlock can be differentiated from those two species because it has fern-like leaves and purple blotches on the stems.

All parts of the weed — leaves, stem, flowers and roots — are poisonous. Department of Agriculture officials said it's popping up in isolated pockets of the state, including recent finds in southeastern Minnesota. It appears to be spreading quickly near St. Charles and Lanesboro, officials said.

Residents are advised to call Minnesota Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if the plant is ingested. If the person is unresponsive or having trouble breathing, call 911. If an animal eats it, immediately call a veterinarian.

People also reportedly have been poisoned by handling the plant. State officials advise wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and gloves.

Poison hemlock often is found along roadsides, in pastures, on the banks of streams and in ditches. If you suspect a sighting, take a picture and e-mail it to arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us or contact the local University of Minnesota Extension office.

More information can be found on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website.