FLOWER OF THE MONTH

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - by Kevin Parr

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.

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