Masses of Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) or Persil bhó in Irish have been dominating and brightening up roadsides, hedgerows and woodland edges since April and are always a herald of summer. They are beginning to fade now and leave nature’s stage. (1a;1b)
It is sometimes called Queen Anne’s lace because of the delicate and beautiful lace-like flowers or umbels it bears. (An umbel is a cluster of flowers on short stalks that fan out like the ribs of an umbrella to support the flowers). Anne was queen of England between 1702 and 1707.
The stems are hollow and ridged and grow to a metre in height. Their nectar and pollen attract all kinds of insects, so it is a useful plant for biodiversity.
Cow parsley is now being replaced by Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) or Cow parsnip or Feabhrán in Irish which also belongs to the umbellifer family. (2) This can reach heights of two to three metres. Like Cow parsley its stems are grooved and hollow. The deeply divided leaves, however, are very different than those on Cow parsley because they lack the ferny appearance of the latter. (3a;3b)
It is called “hogweed” because when pigs could run freely and fend for themselves, they liked to eat this plant. Many species of fly pollinate the flowers.
Hogweed is a native plant unlike its invasive relative, the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) which is a native of South West Asia. This can grow to five metres on stems as thick as 10cm in diameter. It favours damp places such as riverbanks and destroys all vegetation beneath it. This plant can cause severe skin blisters when handled; the juice of the native Hogweed also causes skin blisters.