July 06, 2016

Britain in bloom

It's variously known as cow-weed or cow parsnip, alderdrots, bilder, caddy, eltrot or old-rot; kirk, chirk or keks; and rather delightfully, limperscrimps, and it's in flower right now on roadsides, hedgerows and field margins right across the country:

White-tailed bumblebee on hogweed

Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) gets its most common name from the apparently piggy smell of its blooms, which are far less lace-like in appearance than its cousin the cow parsley that flowers earlier in the year. A sturdy, architectural umbellifer, it's related to the tiny pignut I saw in bloom across swathes of Cumbria last month, and also to poisonous hemlock; angelica, with its huge, more globe-like flower-heads; and wild carrot, which often has a single red flower in the centre of its umbels.


Look up 'hogweed' online and you'll find far more space devoted to giant hogweed, its non-native relative, than our beautiful common sort – small wonder, I suppose, as contact with the giant kind can cause appalling burns. Our own variety has a specialist invertebrate, the hogweed picture-wing fly, which parasitises it; its open flowers with their exposed nectar are also loved by soldier beetles, hoverflies, bees fruit flies and many other creatures.

Mosquito (rear) and Nomada or cuckoo bee (right) on hogweed