Get to know the common Hogweed.  Heracleum sphondyllium





THE Hogweed Heracleum sphondyllium , is a common grassland plant, and because of its size cannot fail to be noticed. It may be encountered in other localities such as waste land and woodland clearings. It must not be mistaken for its  relative-the alien Giant hogweed H.mantegazzianum, which is classed as dangerous. The sap of mature hogweeds {more so the Giant species} when contact is made with the skin can cause painful blisters especially when the sap is exposed to sunlight.

I remember as a boy {long before the computer and electronic games became popular, or affordable} I used the hollow stem of the plant as a pea shooter or blow pipe. The common hogweed is native to our shores while the Giant hogweed was introduced by the Victorians as an ornamental plant for large gardens.

As with many other species that were introduced the Giant hogweed escaped over the garden walls to become establishes in many parts of the country. Giant hogweed can attain the height of twice the size of a full grown man, sporting thick hollow stems covered with rough, dense hairs, as are the large divided leaves. The umbels { Flower heads} are as large as a dinner plate, making this an awesome plant towering well above neighbouring vegetation.{ See Giant hogweed } In the content banners above scrolldown to view. photograph by Dal.  Giant Hogweed new young growth.

Common hogweed.

The common hogweed is capable of attaining the height of six feet or more with umbels much smaller than its alien counterpart. The plants common name derives from a} the fact that the plants were once fed to pigs. b} refers to the smell of the flowers. Not all flowers are sweet scented , the rose for example, to attract pollinating insects. Some have evolved more unusual strategies. The flowers of hogweed produce the scent of pigs, not that noticeable to man, but to flies it is like a magnet and flies are the main pollinators of this plant. Photograph by Dal

Close up of the flowers of the common hogweed. The larger ones are on the outer of the umbel .

Courtesy of Frank Vincente   CC BY-SA 3.0 license 

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Photograph  top the new growth of the common hogweed. Below close up of the flowers

The  leaves of the common hogweed appear early in the spring, small at first, broadening out into familiar course, lobed foliage. The stems are thick and erect, hollow, hairy attaining the height of six feet or more { some specimens are much smaller depending on growing conditions}. Where the leaf stalks meet the stem  they have the characteristic sheath common in this family.

The flowers are in large umbels {think spokes of an umbrella} with 20 spokes or rays. Each flower head being 10-20cm wide. The umbel is flat rather than domed. The flowers are of a grey white colour. The outer flowers of the umbel are larger than those occupying the middle. Photograph by Dal

Photograph the majestic umbels of the common hogweed taken from below.

The flowers are succeeded by copious seeds are flattened which helps them to be carried by the wind. Hogweed tend to flower before the similar looking wild angelica another member of the Apiaceae family. Sometimes the flowering period overlaps and where they grow together this can cause confusion.Closer observation of the two species will reveal that the umbels of angelica are much more domed shaped and the flowers are often tinged with pinkish hue.

The foliage of angelica is much more open and neatly divided with neat leaf segments, the whole being of a triangular outline. Both species have the characteristic sheathsthis where the leaf stalk meets the stem

Common Hogweed Stem Courtesy of Frank Vincentz CC BY-SA 3.0 License

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Photograph angelica sheath and foliage above. Below -- the seeds of the common hogweed.--photographs by Dal


Common hogweed was once employed in medicine. The seeds were boiled in oil was recommended for running sores and shingles.Culpeper recommended the decoction of the seeds to be applied to running ears. However, the plant has long fell out of favour where medicine is concerned.

It still has culinary uses to country people who collect the young shoots early in the season . 8-10  tender young stems, about 15cm long which may be boiled and eaten. The shoots have  a high vitamin C content. Salted boiling  water is recommended with the cooking time of about 15mins, they are then drained and served with butter. They make an ideal accompaniment to meat dishes.

WARNING!!!!!!!! This family of plants contains many poisonous species and correct identification is essential. See  LINK TO WILD HERB ADVISE .

Heracleum the plants genus name derives from the Greek mythological Hercules,who was said to have used the plant in medicine.Also see LATIN NAMES EXPLAINED. 

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Giant Hogweed 

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