Monday, 22 July 2013

Botanical Giants - Heracleum mantegazzianum

How can I possibly convey the size of the Giant Hogweed, especially if you have never met Heracleum mantegazzianum - later in this post I will call on some help from H
Introduced from the Caucasus to Britain in the 19th century for ornamental reasons it is a spectacular plant but with a very dark side to its nature. This giant is a phototoxic plant and its sap can cause severe skin inflammations especially when then exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. Initially the skin colours red and starts itching. Then blisters form as it burns within 48 hours. They form black or purplish scars which can be permanent or last for several years.  Hospitalisation may be necessary. A minute amount of sap in the eyes can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness. In the UK, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to plant or cause giant hogweed to grow in the wild. Because of this it is rare to come across the plant, but H and I discovered a deeply banked stream with a forest of them growing alongside it. I have to admit that they looked absolutely spectacular - but because of the location and where they were growing it was only possible to get close to one small specimen to photograph.
A member of the Umbelliferae family (carrot) and described as "Queen Anne's Lace on Steroids" each flowerhead is enormous. Measuring about 38 cms - 15 inches across, much larger than a normal sized dinner plate, and standing 5 metres tall, it resembles a tree.
I remember seeing the plants growing in large quantities when we travelled beyond the Arctic Circle in Norway to Tromsø. There they grow even taller because during the summer months they have sunlight night and day, so the plants just keep on growing for 24 hours. They call them the Tromsø Palm.
H's wrist is behind the flowerhead in this photo giving some indication of the size.
The stems were roughly the size of a teenage girls lower arm.
As previously mentioned the only plant we could get close to for photographs was a 'baby' in terms of size.  This one had escaped from the Giant Hogweed forest below on the river bank.  Judging by H's height and arm stretch this baby must have been over 2½ metres high, bearing in mind that they grow to twice that height.
Nestling, juxtapose, beneath the Giant Hogweeds were some small wild Pyramidal Orchids 
I can't let this moment pass without showing my own spectacular garden giant.........the Dracunculus vulgaris - Dragon Arum, Black Arum, the Voodoo Lily, it's names are many. There do seem to be problems with many of these 'giants' this one has an overwhelming smell of rotting meat for a couple of days to attract the flies as pollinators, but I love it nevertheless.
When the swallows fly south, and lady frost's icy fingers weave their magic, I have promised myself a return to the Giant Hogweed's hidden forest to capture them again in all their naked sculptural glory.

59 comments:

  1. Wowww! What a great plant ;) Very beautiful photos ;)

    I follow you beautiful blog. I hope you will follow me back and I will wait for you in my blog www.gabusiek.blogspot.com

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    1. I appreciate your visit and your kind comment - thank you.

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  2. Oh how I love this post, you have no idea. I adore Hogweed and all such lacy plants. I love the way it is so structural and how the insects are drawn to it. I have been attempting to photograph them with a new camera (!) unsuccessfully, am most jealous of your wonderful photos here. Also like your own giant too. Minerva x

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    1. I agree that it is very difficult to photograph the Giant Hogweed and I was not happy with many of my photos. Being so tall it is so difficult to get near to its umbels, and you do not want to risk getting too close to to the plant anyway.
      New cameras do take time to get used to, but I am sure that you will soon be happy companions. Today, I have just learnt for the first time the trick of taking very red flowers, I can't believe that I have only just discovered the secret.

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  3. My goodness, it's certainly tall and that's a baby one!
    We used to be able to purchase Queen Anne's Lace down here in Tasmania, but certainly only very small as in a very small shrub.
    Your 'Stink Lily' is a nice one :)
    The orchids are a lovely colour.

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    1. There is absolutely no problem at all with all the other umbelliferae family - the Queen Anne's Lace, the wild parsleys, the hogweed, it is just the GIANT hogweed that is dangerous.

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  4. I agree the plant is beautiful and rather scary at the same time. How interesting that something as benign and lovely as wild orchids were growing close by! I find taking white flowers difficult to photograph.

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    1. Yes I agree, white flowers are difficult especially in the bright sun as it was that day. These particular flowers were difficult to get near to due to their location and their dangerous sap - we did not want to end up damaging ourselves.
      We were so surprised when we looked down and saw the orchids flourishing so well under their shadow.

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  5. If you remember Rosmary, I wrote a post about the carrot plant.. queen ann's lace.. some time ago. I had always thought them a member of the onion family, until upon reading up that they belong to the carrot family.. I am going to say.. WOW. never never , have i seen them so so big and called Hogweed.
    I have only ever seen them around here and the countryside so small compared to those giants.. They really are giants.
    How great to go back and see them in the snow.. will be like a fairyland.
    The orchids must be compatible with the giant hogweed. I have heard people talk of giant hogweed..now I know what it is.. its beautiful.
    Great photos .. very interesting. val

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    1. Giant Hogweed is a completely different plant to ordinary Hogweed which still grows in our hedgerows and has no dangers attached to it. In fact you can eat parts of ordinary Hogweed. Giant Hogweed is a different matter entirely and very rarely seen here. I do remember it in the hedgerows when I was a child, but now it has practically vanished from our countryside because of its inherent danger. There is no doubt that it is a very spectacular architectural plant and I would grow it in my garden if it was safe.

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  6. Really amazing! Thank you to H. for his help!

    Marina

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    1. I will pass on your thanks to H Marina - the plant is spectacular.

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  7. Terrific photos of the Giant Hogweed. I knew something about it but I've never come across it in the countryside. I've always thought of it as a Victorian mistake but it does look impressive and I love your description of a hidden forest of them. Your own 'giant' is fascinating, too. And the orchid is beautiful.

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    1. Dear Wendy - you are right about it being a Victoria mistake - being so architectural they were considered desirable plants for large country gardens, that is before there dark side was realised. I remember seeing them often as a child, but now finding them is very difficult. That is a good thing really because they can inflict terrible harm on humans unless you stand back and simply admire. I would love to have clambered down the bank to get some better shots of them but that would not have been sensible.

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  8. Fantastic second picture, an explosion of white.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  9. I still remember the warnings we used to get about the dangers of giant hogweed when we were at primary school. I make sure I don't touch it if I see a patch. I'd definitely be photographing it though, I have a bit of a thing about photographing umbellifers!
    I liked your little comment about looking forward to returning in the winter.

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    1. The structure of the flowering umbellifers are really beautiful and with the Giant Hogweed being so tall it has to be view from beneath making it even more dramatic.
      I think that they should look stunning in the wintertime.

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  10. Wonderful pictures of this magnificent plant. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Patricia x

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    1. It is the first time that I have come across any for years Patricia.

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  11. Great post on garden giants!

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    1. Apparently you have it in Canada too!!! be careful if you see it.

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  12. We have these too, down by our local river. I lectured my boys about the dangers, but I'm not sure they were listening. Must repeat this to the grandchildren!

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    1. Dear Nilly - please do - I have seen some of the burns caused by it on the internet and they are really horrific. What a pity that such a beauty should be such a beast - a wolf in sheep's clothing

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  13. Those plants are some kind of problem here in Finland as well. People have been told to get rid of them, because they spread so easily and are harmful.

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    1. I am not surprised Satu as I know that they have them in Norway. Getting rid of them is very difficult as you need to wear protective clothing, and also cover your face with a mask to protect the skin and eyes from the sap. It is a giant thug.

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  14. I don't ever recall seeing these monster plants, if I did perhaps I just thought they were Queen Anne's Lace gone berserk. Thanks for sharing the dangers of their beauty - sounds quite ominous. Not sure they have them here anyway - over shortly to see what I can dig up (pun intended!!!) online.

    Your images are fabulous and thank H for getting so close and putting himself in danger. Will they still be dangerous to handle in Winter when dried? If not, how stunning they would look in a tall container.

    Best wishes for the week ahead -
    Mary
    Mary

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    1. I had wondered about the dried seed heads myself, but have found no information on the internet. Apparently the seeds remain viable for up to 7 years. I imagine it wouldn't be dangerous when dried but you never know!!!

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  15. Me again- yes they grow in one particular county here in North Carolina - and all the dangers were specific and the same as those you quoted. A terrible threat to humans if handled, and if we spot it growing it must be reported to the agricultural dept. here.

    Mary

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    1. They are in many countries now and have mostly, perhaps unwittingly, been introduced because they are such wonderful architectural plants to have in big gardens.

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  16. Wow, what an amazing plant Rosemary - dramatic, but a bit scary too. It looks almost too big to be natural, a giant flower rather than a tree. It is interesting that you found a large patch of them, given that they have been banned - nature has its ways of surviving! Your photos are stunning, as always, thank you for showing them.

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    1. I was really surprised when I discovered them - they should look quite something when they have dried out over the autumn and their structure should be clearly visible.

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  17. So interesting!Never seen them before unless the ordinary Queen Anne's Lace which grow so well here.And a little terrifying...if somebody doesn't know...But, I wouldn't have mind following you in this secret forest Rosemary!Contrariwise, I would be so intrigued!

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    1. Dear Olympia - although a member of the same family as the Queen Anne's Lace that is where its similarity ends. All of the other members of the umbellifers are benign, but not so this giant beast, who should not to be tampered with.

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  18. Hello Rosemary,
    I had never heard of the Giant Hogweed before moving to St Marys. Like in your area, it is a band weed, but in the last few summers, it's been spotted in the country side, near river banks. I'm glad you showed the scale of this weed using H as a reference - it's huge! I had no clue how big it was - thank you and H for taking the risk of getting so close to it.
    Anyes
    xx

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    1. Hello Anyes - the plant is alright as long as you do not touch it and get any sap on you. When H put his hand behind the flower head he covered his hand with a hankerchief - just in case. They are very difficult to eradicate requiring both total body protection and also masks to cover the entire face. Their seeds can lie dormant in the ground for up to severn years and then suddenly spring to life.

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  19. Gorgeous!
    As I looked at your first picture, I could not figure out how in the world you had managed to get that fantastic shot. Immense surprise, indeed! ;-)

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    1. P.S.:
      I have a dried stalk of what could be the same plant. I picked it along a small river south of Vienna.

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    2. Dear Merisi - the first shot was actually taken from quite a distance looking down the river bank. I am sure that your peice of stalk is actually quite sculptural - I am still deciding whether or not I should pick any in the winter or not!!!

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  20. Wow! I have never seen or heard of these beautiful but scary plants. When I was a child, my mom studied wild flowers in our area and one day I was with her and picked what I thought was a bigger than normal wild carrot. The juice got on my fingers and by evening I had burning, itching blisters all over my hand. I did not have to be hospitalized. It all cleared up in a couple days on it's own and this plant was nothing compared to the size of the Hogweed. My mom researed what I picked and identified it, but I don't remember it's name now. I have been careful not to pick anything that resembles that plant unless I am sure it is Queen Ann's Lace.

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    1. There are quite a number of plants that people are sensitive to but not in the same category as the Giant Hogweed. I know that when I got the milky sap of the euphorbia on my hands they became red and itchy for a while.

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  21. A week ago during my bikeride trough the forrest I was thinking of you seing this plant every where in our forest. But I agree she is a real beauty, but is spreading very quickly in our forrest.
    Have a wonderful day rosemary

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    1. Dear Marijke - the trouble with the Giant Hogweed is that she has so many seeds on each of her umbellifers and they can remain dormant but healthy for up to 7 years. The are also very difficult to get rid of because of their size and the need to wear protective clothing and face masks. She is a beautiful menace.

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  22. Dear Rosemary,

    Having read here about effects of the Giant Hogweed, its stalk does seem to signal danger. How cruel Nature is to present a flower that can blind! But I'm sure there's a reason for Giant Hogweeds to exist, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were something medicinal about it.

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    1. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you are right Mark, but in the meantime I think that I will continue to keep a decent gap between us.

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  23. Hello Rosemary,
    the poisonous plant is giant and also beautiful!
    Congratulations for text and photos.
    a hug

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    1. Hello Antonio - it is a giant of a plant and also as you mention very beautiful - however, its sap is very dangerous.

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  24. Dear Rosemary,what a giant plant!!!Very beautiful flowers!!!
    Gorgeous pictures!!!I would love to walk in that forest!!!
    Have a nice week!!!
    Dimi...

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    1. If you did walk in the forest of Giant Hogweed Dimi you would definitely need to wear protective clothing and a mask on your face.

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  25. When we visited Downhouse farm gardens we saw a plant close to the pond which looked just like your photos. I was instantly attracted to it as it look like a monster cow parsley! I also took a few photographs of it as the structure of it was so beautiful. I shall be more careful if I can across anything like it again.
    Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - I think that it is important that more people know about its dangers and especially children. I would hate to think of young people unwittingly cutting the stems and getting the sap on themselves.

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  26. You are truly surrounded by giants Rosemary! Dangerous or not smelling that nice, but beautiful either way.
    Marian

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    1. Thanks Marian - they are architecturally very beautiful but I do have strong concerns about them especially where children are concerned.

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  27. Hello Rosemary, That giant hogweed is really monstrous for a non-woody plant. Some of the umbelliferae do get quite large in the U.S. Plants like water hemlock or cow parsnip can grow quite tall, and even wild carrots in a good location can get over your head, but none are as substantial as your hogweed.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello Jim - Giant Hogweed is a member of the same family i.e. carrots, but he is not a gently giant rather a thug should you get any sap on your skin. It is a shame because he is such a majestic architectural plant and would add a wonderful backdrop to any large garden.
      Mark mentioned that he is sure there is a reason for Giant Hogweeds to exist, and he wouldn't be surprised if there were something medicinal about it. He could have a good point.

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  28. A fascinating but frightening plant. Although I have never seen one, we have been hearing a lot about it in the news lately. Your second photo is enchanting.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - it is a glorious, majestic, architectural plant, but it is also a thug. I do think that it is important that people know about its dark side, and especially children. I can just imagine a child being delighted by a Giant Hogweed forest, running playfully through it, and grabbing at the stems without realising the horrors that they hold.

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  29. Thank you so much for this post Rosemary. I remember as a child posters with public warnings and even a television commercial warning of the dangers of Giant Hogweed.
    That said being a typical scallywag of a boy, I did my upmost to find it, even though it wasn't featured in my Observers book of plants or my Eye-spy books but to no avail.
    I wonder how they deal with it in it's native habitat?

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    1. As I mentioned Paul, we saw it growing in great forest like clumps in Tromsø, Norway about 30 years ago. At the time they were very proud of it calling it the Tromsø Palm. Now, however, they are trying very hard to get rid of it. However, I understand that it originates in the remote Caucasus Mountain regions between the Black and the Caspian Seas, where there is probably little habitation.
      To eliminate it is very difficult; you can imagine it produces masses of seeds on those very large flower heads. They can lie dormant for 7 years, and then still grow. You need protective clothing from head to foot, and it is also essential to wear a face mask.

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