Ode to Cow Parsnip

May 17, 9 am.

Today the plant, Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum, has caught my attention. In the woodlands and along the creek it is a spectacular specimen of a plant.  It is also known as American cow-parsnip, Indian celery, Indian rhubarb or pushki. It is sometimes referred to as Heracleum lanatum. This is a very large leaved plant with flower heads that can be 10 to 12 centimeters across and it can grow to 8 feet tall. I have read that it has a toxic chemical within the stems and leaves that contain furanocoumarins which can cause skin rashes, though I have never experienced this.  My idea is that when walking around in nature it is important to pay attention to the plants you are walking through. This large, hairy, fleshy-leaved plant is not one I would want to brush against with my shorts on! Right now the large white flowers look like light bulbs, they are glowing white in the dark of the woodlands. Later on, the seed heads are also beautiful in their fall colors.  Cow parsnip is an important food source for deer, elk, bear, and probably many rodents. We see evidence of this out here in the valley where even the cows are happy to eat it.  It is also a host plant for Anise swallowtail butterflies and for 5 other species of moth and butterflies. The size and structure of this magnificent plant is an important addition to the environment as it is a biennial so after it flowers and produces seeds it decomposes back into the area where it grows.  It is no wonder that I have great admiration and appreciation for the Cow Parsnip plant.