FLOWER OF THE MONTH
The pungent attributes of hogweed.
A perfume need not be particularly pleasant to be evocative, and few smells seem to suit the heavy air of high summer like the pungent waft of hogweed. The odour has been likened to that of a pig, as its common name would suggest, and attracts myriad pollinating insects even though our own noses may be turned. The small white flowers are numerous and variable in size. They sit upon umbels that grow upon multiple rays, splaying out from the stalk like the upturned legs of a spider. Hogweed is similar in appearance to several other plants of the carrot family, and thrives in the same habitat. It is, however, larger and more robust than cow parsley and rough chervil. Its size and form led to its Latin classification; Heracleum deriving from the Greek hero Heracles, while sphondylium relates to the segmented stem. Like much of the plant, the thick, hollow stalks are edible, and were once used as pea-shooters by playing children. Care should be taken when near hogweed – it is easily misidentified as the highly poisonous hemlock and cowbane. As the leaves photosynthesise, hogweed releases a sap that can cause irritation to sensitive skin. In recent years, its more dangerous, non-native relative, giant hogweed, has spread through the UK. The secretion from this huge (up to five metres tall) invader reacts with sunlight and can cause burns and permanent skin damage.