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HOGWEED : Heracleum sphondylium

Also known as common hogweed or cow parsnip.

While the plants themselves are very different, the flowers of cow parsley and this one, also known as cow parsnip, are very similar except in size. See index.asp?pageid=732532

Ah! What is in a name? "Hogweed" kindles up images of wizardry. Not quite the same word, but is there a connection? The Science Fiction and Fantasy websiite asked  JK Rowling. She speculated that it might be the name of a flower that she’d once seen, although seemed to have forgotten herself. "Some I make up. Some mean something. Dumbledore is olde English for bumblebee. I thought I made up Hogwarts, but recently a friend said, “Remember we saw lilies in Kew gardens (a garden in London.)” Apparently there are lilies there called Hogwarts. I'd forgotten!". 

So maybe. The direct connection cannot be found, but it is enough to suggest to us that there is something curious about hogweed

The Wildlife Trust website says Hogweed is a native plant (unlike its alien relative, giant hogweed) which is abundant in hedgerows, roadside verges, waste grounds and rough grasslands. As a member of the carrot family (an umbellifer), it displays large, umbrella-like clusters of creamy-white flowers between May and August (although it can flower all year-round) which are attractive to a range of insects.

This of course refers to our native hogweed only. Its larger cousin, giant hogweed is quite dangerous. See index.asp?pageid=732037It is native to the western Caucasus region of Eurasia. It was introduced to Britain as an ornamental plant in the 19th century... The sap of giant hogweed is phototoxic and causes phytophotodermatitis in humans, resulting in blisters and scars. These serious reactions are due to the furanocoumarin derivatives in the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds of the plant. Consequently, it is considered to be a noxious weed in many places.

But back to our local native one. It is quite common around West Dunbartonshire. While some of us may find that handling the plant with bare hands a bit irritating due to its lightly bristly surface, it cause few problems. In fact The hollow stems of hogweed were traditionally used in many children's games as water guns, pea-shooters and swords. Its sap is less toxic than that of giant hogweed (and some other umbellifers), so doesn't cause the same skin irritation.

The clusters of creamy white flowers are similar to that of other plants such as cow parsley, but the simiarity stops there. The stalks are comparatively chunky and new flowers have a curious way of unfurling from within pockets of leaf up the stalks. 

The flowers are rather attractive and the seeds worthy of a dry arrangement before the plant withers for the winter.

There is a link below to a forager's view on this plant as something edible. Although from an American perspective, this is much the same plant and therefore of interest. As always, learn from those with experience as to proper preparation.

At first quite inconspicuous amongst many other plants...

... by mid-June they begin to assert themselves. This one is on the towpath of the upper Leven.

Well into July and new hogweed are emerging.

By mid-July the plant is at its largest. Note the leaves (quite different to cowparsley).

While some are still in flower, many have ripe and ready seeds.

By late August the plants are in decline. Most leaves still look good, but the flowers are all but gone.

Those seeds are quite dramatic though. Tempting for dry flower arrangement - as long as they don't get dumped on the compost heap and take root in your garden. But then why not?

By the end of August summer is theoretically about to end and many plants are drying out, but some linger. This one is a star-burst of white and offwhite as the flowers fade away at different stages.

FORAGER CHEF : https://foragerchef.com/cow-parsnip/

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY website : https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/100229/why-did-jk-rowling-choose-the-name-hogwarts

WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heracleum_sphondylium

WILDLIFE TRUSTS : https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/wildflowers/hogweed

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