Exploring my little piece of the planet

Posts tagged “insect

Cow Parsnip

or Common Hogweed
Heracleum lanatum (
also H. maximum, H. sphondylium)


According to Botanary, this genus of the carrot family was named for Hercules, who was supposed to have used it first for medicine.

This odoriferous species is indeed a plant of muscle:  important and commanding as probably the largest perennial in our forest.

It grows in rich moist soil in broad and small forest clearings, rising up to almost two metres by July.

Its huge, 30 cm. compound hairy (lanatus) leaves and equally large flower heads provide landing plantforms and important sustinence for a wide range of insects and birds.

In contradiction to its name and in spite its nutritious foliage, Cow Parsnip is often shunned by cattle and can apparently have a souring effect on their milk when they do eat it. Bears have apparently been known to browse on the flower heads in the spring and in the fall the winged, sunflower-like seeds are popular with birds. After the frost, deer, elk, bears and marmots will eat the stems and leaves.

Roots, young leaf stalks and marrow from the hollow stem were used as food, for rituals, as a yellow dye and medicinally by the North American First Nations and early Europeans although care was  taken as sensitive skin can be affected a phototoxin contained in the roots and outer skin.

If you are going to handle Cow Parsnip for any reason it is important that you do not confuse it with other plants of the carrot family that are quite poisonous. Gavan P.L. Watson from Ontario has a good description of the differences here.

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Other Resources:

Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland by Derek Johnson et al. Lone Pine, Alberta 1995
Wildflowers of Alberta by R.G.H. Cormack. Hurtig, Alberta 1977
Common Plants of the Western Rangelands: Volume 3 – Forbs
by Kathy Tannas. Olds College, Alberta 2004
All News in One
Montana Plant Life
Wild Food Girl

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Police Car Moth

Gnophaelia vermiculata

This moth’s genus is fairly easy to remember if you can remember its common name, which shouldn’t be hard as it looks so much like an old-time police car with its bold black and white colouring and brilliant orange ‘lights’ at the top of its thorax. If I’m not mistaken (and the pronunciation of latin names seems to vary), ‘Gnophaela‘ looks to sound like ‘No Fail Ya’ and that puts me in mind of the Canadian Mounties who ‘Always Get their Man’. 🙂  ‘Vermiculata‘ means ‘worm-like’ – I would think that would apply to most caterpillars.

I think I have finally figured out why the wild Lungwort in my gardens look so sad after the blooms have finished in August. It is the favourite food of the Police Car Moth's larva.

It can be hard though, to remember that this is a moth, not a butterfly. As this Everyday Mysteries site tells us, “One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth is to look at the antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are club-shaped with a long shaft and a bulb at the end. A moth’s antennae are feathery or saw-edged.”

Everything is busy reproducing in my gardens in July. These two have found a wonderfully scented nest of 'Mrs. Simpson's Pinks' carnations.

You can’t really see it here, but this insect has quite a thick body. Butterflies tend to be much more svelte. Otherwise, this moth breaks a lot of rules. For one,  it is diurnal – it flies during the day unlike the majority of moths – but also it’s really beautiful! Not dull coloured as so many moths are.

It looks like the male has seen better days, but his mate seems to be keeping him company as he catches his breath.

If you look closely, (no it’s not rude – it’s nature!), you can see that the antennae are quite feather-like and have no bulb at the end.  You can tell a male moth from a female by the width of its antennae: the male is the one with the larger ‘feathers’ (antennae).

As Weaslehead.org reports, Police Car Moths are “Notoriously poor flyers… tend to stick close to the ground and are easily observed and photographed. They are also relatively harmless and do little if any damage to the plants they feed on.” So there you go. That’s why I managed to get such clear shots of them this summer. 🙂

I think this is the larva of the Police Car Moth

It was fascinating to watch this delicate critter gracefully and methodically building its cocoon. Unfortunately it was very bad timing to repair the eaves trough and it didn’t survive. Here is a much better photo I found of the Police Car Moth caterpillar.