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   Cow Parsnip and Love Root are close relatives and if you mentally cut a Cow Parsnip leaf into a lacy, fern-like leaf and reduce its flower size considerably, you end up with a plant that looks like Loveroot.  The two plants enjoy similar habitats and are commonly found near each other.  Both are quite common in the mountains of the Four Corners area but Loveroot is by far the more common of the two, growing along almost all trails and often growing in thick, extensive patches.  See Love Root.

    Ethnobotanist, Professor Nancy Turner of the School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, sent me the following information about the edibility of Heracleum sphondylium (now called Heracleum maximum):

    "I learned about the “borscht” reference from a European colleague, Dr. Łukasz  Łuczaj, who is a co-author on a paper we are working on about the use of edible wild plants.  He wrote a short section for the paper called “The Original Borsch”.  He noted that the Russian word "borsh" and Polish "barszcz" nowadays refer to a kind of vegetable soup which is often made with beets. In the past, however, these names applied mainly to a soup made from young shoots of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, which in Polish bears a name "barszcz" and in Russian "barshchevnikh".  Apparently Hogweed was an important food plant in Poland at least until the 16th Century.

    First Peoples across North America, especially in British Columbia (where I am from), peel and eat the stalks in the springtime, always being careful to peel them and not to touch the phototoxic hairs and skin or allow exposure to sunlight."

     Click for more Heracleum maximum photographs.

Heracleum maximum
Heracleum maximum. Synonyms: Heracleum sphondylium subspecies montanum, Heracleum lanatum. (Cow Parsnip)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, meadows, streamsides. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, June 19, 2004.

Cow Parsnip is a perennial mountain wildflower which produces gigantic growth each year; no-one misses this plant.  Its leaves can be several feet broad, flower stalks up to seven feet tall, and flower clusters to a foot wide with a strong, pungent sweetness.  And it is a common plant, especially in meadows, under aspens, along streams, and in moist meadows.  It makes spectacular displays with Loveroot and Delphinium throughout July and early August.  Squeezing its seeds produces the strong Parsley smell characteristic of many members of this family.

From European specimens, Linnaeus named this genus for Hercules; the plant was thought to have potent medicinal properties.  "Sphondylium", of unknown meaning, was a genus name used for this and other plants before Linnaeus.  There is disagreement about the genus name and specific epithet because the first named European species show considerable variation in morphology and may or may not be the same as the more uniform North American species.

Heracleum maximum
Heracleum maximum. Synonyms: Heracleum sphondylium subspecies montanum, Heracleum lanatum. (Cow Parsnip) 
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, meadows, streamsides. Summer.
Ryman Creek Trail, June 16, 2005.

Newly unfolding pleated leaves are just two inches long but will soon be about a foot in diameter.

Heracleum maximum

Heracleum maximum

Heracleum maximum

Heracleum maximum

Heracleum maximum

Heracleum maximum

 

 

Heracleum maximum. Synonyms: Heracleum sphondylium subspecies montanum, Heracleum lanatum. (Cow Parsnip)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, meadows, streamsides. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, June 19, 2004; June 20, 2008; and (final photograph) July 31, 2010.

Flowers start in very tight green clumps, gradually spray outward turning brilliant white, then the mass turns green again as seeds develop.  All of these phases can be found at the same time on each Heracleum in the early weeks of its blooming.

Seeds become large, colorful, and aromatic and, as the final photograph below indicates, spray out in all directions when the plant receives just a bump from the wind, a passing deer or hiker, or from Mike Price's walking stick.

Click for more Heracleum maximum photographs.

Heracleum maximum

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Heracleum maximum

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