HOGWEED HEAVEN

The cow parsley is over and the roadsides are filling up with hogweed, Heracleum spondylium  This wild herb competes well with docks and thistles and from midsummer is by far the most common roadside umbellifer. Its tall ridged stems rise up like doric columns above the grasses and the umbrella stalks bearing the familiar creamy white flowers are so familiar, it is easy to dismiss them.

The young leaves are actually edible as are the seeds and, as its name suggests, it was once used as fodder for pigs.  But it is as an insect haven that hogweed really comes into its own. The individual flowers are tiny and when massed into a large flat head provide the perfect landing platform for pollinators which can luxuriate among the scented pink and white blossoms.   In July and August, the heads of hogweed are like an insect aerodrome buzzing with soldier beetles (in their red tops and black trousers) as well as  bumble bees, honey bees, hover flies and yellow-striped longhorned wasp beetles.

Hogweed grows to a height of  1-2.5 metres but is dwarfed by its alien cousin,  Heracleum mantegazzianum, which has been known to reach 7 metres and is dangerously toxic.

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