Feral horses, belonging to my grandfather, ran wild over thick banks of water hemlock, and there were more than a few rattlesnakes.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I was told it is like "thick forest", so thick does not modify banks even it is "thick banks of".

He was standing at the head of the table; the rest of us perched on benches, studying the thick planks of red oak.

Here, I think thick is for planks

So, my question would be in the form of "the thick A of B", which one does thick modify, A or B?

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  • 2
    “Thick banks of water hemlock” sounds very odd to me. It describes the banks as being thick, rather than the hemlock. I would expect “Banks (covered) with water hemlock growing thick” or words to that effect. Where is the quote from? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 13 at 15:58
  • the book <educated> by TARA WESTOVER – wtdark Apr 13 at 16:05
  • From the full OED definition BI1b figurative. The position, time, stage, or state in which activity is most intense; the midst, the height (of an action). Always in the thick of. Commonly today, in the thick of it = at the heart of some [hectic] activity. Only distantly related to adjectival thick planks. – FumbleFingers Apr 13 at 16:37
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    I understand it as "banks that are thick with water hemlock", which is what I first read it as meaning: I didn't see the ambiguity until I went over it again! – TrevorD Apr 13 at 18:37
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    Bank of flowers is hardly an unknown collocation. Both water hemlock and rattlers are deadly poisonous. – KarlG Apr 13 at 21:01

Thick banks of water hemlock

To me this conjures a picture of exuberant collections of water hemlock appearing to form islands or banks within a marshy field.

Remember that water hemlock, Cicuta virosa, likes to grow in wet grassland, sometimes called "water meadow".

Water meadow, the typical place to find water hemlock

It is implausible that wild horses would be making a special point of running along the very edge of a river. It is more plausible that they were running through wet grasslands / water meadow, such as that shown above, and that the "banks" were not edges of a river, but rather random clusters of water hemlock.


Regarding the question :
... "the thick A of B", which one does thick modify, A or B?

Option A because I interpret your examples as :

  • the thick (i.e. dense) banks [of flowers]

  • the thick (i.e. several cm wide) planks [of red oak]

Perhaps the confusion is that thick has multiple meanings. In second sentence I’d interpret it as :

growing close together and in large amounts:
thick forest.
thick, dark hair

Likewise, bank has various meanings, and I read it here as

bank noun (3) : a group or series of objects arranged together in a row or a tier.
a bank of vending machinesmerriam-webster.com

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