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.
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
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