Hogweed; Heracleum sphondylium

I think that Hogweed is probably the most unattractive common name placed on any wild flower. There are others which are not that great, but then normally only one half of the name is derogatory. For example Stinking Hellebore or Pig nut or Bastard Balm, but in the case of this member of the Umbelliferacae both of the names are a bit below the belt.

However it is quite attractive especially in close up. Mostly it has white flowers but occasionally you do get pink versions. I recently came across some very pink versions of this plant.

I noticed that the plants with pink flowers also have dark purple stems, whereas the normal white flowered plants have normal green coloured stems.

There is a succession in the flowering times of the umbellifers, first out is  the Cow Parsley, at the same time Pig nut and Sanicle come into flower in the woods. Next is Hog weed, flowering only about two weeks later and there is of course some overlap. Also Ground Elder flowers at this time, I suspect many folks do not distinguish between Cow Parsley and Ground Elder as they are both white and give the hedgerows a frothy flamboyance in late Spring. Later in the year we get the dreaded Hemlock and still later Wild Angelica.

A word of warning about his plant, it can cause problems, the sap if it comes into contact with the skin can cause it to blister up, especially if the skin also gets a dose of sunshine. So you are quite at risk if you are removing Hog weed with a strimmer and it is a hot sunny day and you have removed your shirt. There are many photos on the internet of burns caused by Hogweed but mostly they are from Giant Hogweed, however the ordinary or Common Hogweed  also contains chemicals which can cause a rash and irritations.

This group of plants contains several noxious  species, most famously Hemlock but also Giant Hog weed. However other species are supposed to be edible like Alexanders and Ground Elder, but I have never been tempted to try them. It is a bit like the fungal family Amanita  which has several deadly species but also contains the species known as the Tawny Grissete  (Amanita fulva) which is supposed to be edible but again I have not been tempted to try. You evidently have to cook it well to destroy nasty chemicals which it does contain.  Also I have discovered Hog weed has been used to make soup but again needs cooking well to remove toxic chemicals.

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Many insects visit Hogweed for the nectar, particularly hover flies, if you look closely at my photos you will see many little insects crawling over the surface.

One lady who reads my thoughts on woodland wildflowers commented that the scientific name might be related to the robust nature of this plant. She said . ‘l remember reading somewhere,that the name of the genus is derived from Hercules and may refer to the strength and robustness of the plant,or to some strength-giving virtues supposed to be possessed by it.’ 

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