One side effect of clearing the field last year was the invasion of some less than welcome plants. Namely, wild parsnip (pastinaca) and cow parsnip (heracleum maximum), which are both native to the area, but also opportunistic plants that love fresh cleared and abandoned pasture land. They were probably here prior, but choked out by the years of willow growth. The RoundUp sprayed on most fields keeps them baron so these plants are not seen as much as you’d expect. In fact driving around, I only occasionally see them in road ditches. However, they are all over our property.
Despite growing up in a family with long roots (pun intended) in horticulture and working for years in landscaping, I’ve never had much love of “wild or native flowers.” I’ve always been much fonder of landscape plants, so the little beauty these plants do possess doesn’t make me any less eager to eradicate them.
Worse than Poison Ivy?
Both plants can also cause what is known as phyto-photodermatitus – a blistery rash that occurs when chemicals in the sap are hit with UV light. Example: weed whacking or pulling on a sunny day. (Photos are nasty – Google image search if you dare). How fun is this? Well, it also continues to show up for some time every time you’re in the sun and leaves darkened scars that last for months or years. Of course, if you just exercise some common sense, you’re not likely to get hurt.
However, one invasive plant in this family that was brought over form Asia is even worse. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) has higher concentrations of the chemicals in its sap and has caused very severe injuries in England and Canada – sadly, mostly to children who climb, pick and play in its freakishly large leaves. You can even go temporarily or permanently blind if you get the sap in your eyes. Some small populations have been found in the U.S. in a number of states (including Wisconsin), and are currently being controlled.
Identifying Plants can be Tricky
As my wife can confirm, I’m bit of an alarmist and generally assume the worst. When I first saw this shit in our field, I was confident we were ground zero for the great Hogweed invasion of the U.S. The biggest difference between cow parsnip and giant hogweed is the size (of leaves, steam and flower), so young plants can be hard to decipher. More subtle differences do exist though– with Giant Hogweed having a slightly different lobed, glossy and more deeply incised leaf; thicker hairs and a dappled red stem. Cow parsnip can also have red, but it’s not spotted. Its leaf is not glossy and its hairs are fine and soft.
The Stratchcona County website has a great side-by-side comparison of the two plants, should you see them popping up near you. For you music buffs out there: an early Genesis song also warns of the dangers of the Giant Hogweed and how to destroy it. “Botanical creature stirs, seeking revenge.”
So far the goats haven’t done much damage to the plants and I’ve read conflicting reports on whether animals can be burned. I believe goats will eat it, but don’t favor it and it also sours their milk. So, I’m hoping it gets trampled down – if not, we might need some bigger critters out earlier in the year next year to wipe it out.
If that doesn’t work, I guess I call Phil Collins?