Hogweed – Heracleum sphondylium

Heracleum sphondylium L.

Plant height 0.6-2 m. Flowehead (umbel) width 10-20 cm.

The scientific name comes from Heracleum ‘Hercules’ from the legend that he discovered the medicinal properties of the plant. Sphondylium from Greek for vertebra, describing the distinctive joints along the plant’s stems. It also has some delightful and charming common names, such as Cow Clogweed, Humpy-scrumples and Pig’s Flop, to name but a few.

It’s hard to miss this large native perennial when seen out in the fields and hedgerows. The pinkish or white flowers are arranged in large umbels of 15 to 30 rays. Although the flowers smell unpleasant to humans, like cowdung, they attract many insects like flies, bees and beetles to feed on its rich source of nectar. They also attract 16 differeent species of moth. The grey-green leaves are triangular in shape, up to 60 cm long, with hollow stalks that clasp the stem. Hogweed is not to be confused with the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) which can grow to a height of 2-5 m which has reddish splotches on the stems, and the sap is phototoxic and can give severe burns and blisters when handled.

Hogweed flowers May to September, and can be seen in fields, on roadside verges, railway embankments, riverbanks, and in hedgerows. It is common and widespread throughout Britain.