Just look at the size of that! Spotted today while driving back from a stint of volunteering, I was completely gobsmacked at the size of this Giant Hogweed. (Over 5 feet in height and with a flower umbrella of about 2 feet wide).
It’s “proper” name is Heracleum mantegazzianum and it is also known as Wild Parsnip, Giant Cow Parsley, Wild Rhubarb and Cartwheel Flower. Not only is it impressive in size, it’s also POISONOUS! The sap of Giant Hogweed causes phytophotodermatitis in humans which manifests itself in blisters, long-lasting scars, and—if it comes in contact with eyes—blindness. These serious reactions are due to the furocoumarin derivatives in the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds of the plant.
Originally introduced into Britain during the 19th century as an ornamental plant (those Victorian plant-hunters have so much to answer for!) it is now found all over the UK and particularly on river banks where it can displace other plants and reduce wildlife. On the plus side – bees like it! See, every cloud has a silver lining!
Here in the UK, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to plant or cause Giant Hogweed to grow in the wild. While over in the US, Hogweed is regulated as a federal noxious weed by the US government, and is therefore illegal to import into the United States or move interstate without a permit from the Department of Agriculture. It was described by horticulturalists in Maine state as being “Queen Anne’s lace” on steroids!
The rock group Genesis sang about it on their 1971 album “Nursery Cryme” in a song called “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” the history of the plant’s introduction to Britain is humorously recounted, and the dangers of plant are portrayed facetiously in lines such as: “Turn and run! Nothing can stop them, around every river and canal their power is growing”
Giant Hogweed (or, as I think I prefer… the Cartwheel Flower)