Heracleum maximum (lanatum). Cow-parsnip

Heracleum maximum (lanatum). Cow-parsnip.

Heracleum maximum, commonly known as Cow-parsnip or Heracleum lanatum, is a striking and robust perennial plant that belongs to the Apiaceae family. This imposing native of North America can grow towering heights, often reaching between 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 meters) tall. Cow-parsnip is known for its majestic appearance, featuring thick, hollow stems coated with fine, bristly hairs, lending the plant a coarse and textured look. The leaves are large and compound, divided into toothed leaflets that create impressive, bushy foliage. The plant’s inflorescence forms massive, umbrella-like clusters of creamy-white flowers, often measuring 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) in diameter. These flower clusters can be a beacon for pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, during summer.

While Cow-parsnip’s visual appeal is undeniable, handling this plant with caution is essential. Some parts of Heracleum maximum contain phototoxic compounds that, when in contact with the skin, can lead to painful rashes and blisters when exposed to sunlight—a condition known as phytophotodermatitis. Despite its potential hazards, Cow-parsnip remains an integral part of the natural landscape, contributing to the biodiversity of meadows, riverbanks, and open woodlands across its native range. Its towering presence and architectural beauty make it a captivating addition to any wildflower garden, but exercising care and respect is essential when interacting with this majestic plant.

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