Langwell Fields – Dreaded Hogweed or Lovely Cow Parsley?

Reading the local paper yesterday scared me more than any other story out there, yes even more than the Trump/Russia fiasco!  The Orcadian warned us of the real dangers of coming into contact with hogweed.  The warning  I ask?   Severe blistering if you come into contact with any part of the plant.  The sap when it comes into contact with skin and is exposed to sunlight in minutes will cause 3rd degree burns!  Sounds awful I know!  What is this dreaded hogweed?  How do I know if I have it on my property? Should I mow the field?  Can I let my dog out?  What about my children running around in my picturesque Orkney fields?  It is the land version of Jaws!  Stay out of the water (fields), as Chief Brody warned the beach goers!  So armed with my iPhone I am out to determine if I have this horrible invader or is it an invader?  Maybe I need to do some research first?

Hogweed, according to Royal Horticulture Society website,  scientific name is Heracleum mantegazzianum, and common name is Giant Hogweed or Cartwheel Flower.  I like the sound of Cartwheel flower better myself.  Less scary than Hogweed that sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book!  Sadly there is no other information on the RHS unless I become a member…I thought I did that when I was last at Kew?  anyway…searching on Wildlife Trust pulled up ‘do you mean hawkweed?’ uh no I did not mean hawkweed, but ok lets see what hawkweed comes up with…ok a bit more frustration as search asks do you mean hawkwood?  mmmmm no you meant hawkweed and now you are saying hawkswood…more than one hawk…enough.  Get off Wildlife Trust site.  Now I think I have found a calmer source of knowledge.  The website called  They state that the Giant Hogweed can only be found near streams or rivers.  Its habitat is near a fresh water source.  I am getting less anxious as the plants on my property are no where near fresh water and where they are growing is very dry.

Enough of my independent research. I will trust my gardening friends on FB.  I posted my pictures and suggestions ranged from yarrow to Queen Ann’s Lace.  Which after careful viewing of pictures, I determine they are not.  Heracleum spondylium was the response from FB Plant Identification, thanks to my cousin in Georgia who posted my pictures.  Someone posted I was more ‘remote’ than they were!  So I guess it is the dreaded, blistering, burning horrible weed after all.

Ok so here are the photos…I was a bit distracted as its a beautiful day here in Orkney wandering around my garden noticing other jobs I need to do…

Now how do I get rid of it?  Why is it growing so rapidly this year?  Without having to resort to chemicals is there something else I can plant that inhibits its growth, or crowds it out?  The Department of Environmental Conservation in NY state, advises careful, and the picture here is of someone in a HazMat suit, cutting off the flower heads before the seeds have matured and carefully place in a trash bag.  Leave the trash bag in direct sunlight to complete seed solarisation then dispose in garbage.  Sounds sensible.   To crowd out hogweed a mixture of seed grasses will prevent them from growing.  I was successful this year crowding out dock and dandelion with a mixture of clover and grasses sowed 2 years ago.  So I will be trying this again.

So why is hogweed so prevalent this year?  I know from my almost 4 years here at Langwell that the vegetation tells me what the climate is doing.  Summer of 2015 was wet with lots of dock weed, I pulled tons out of the ground.  2016 was dry and more dandelions were about.  This year we have had a mixture of wet and very dry conditions with less dock and dandelion and more hogweed.  And yes scientifically I believe in climate change.  So next year we will have to wait till spring to forecast what summer will bring.  I hope not the strangling Japanese knotweed!

I will be out this weekend to cut the flower heads and helping to eradicate this weed from my beautiful Langwell fields.  I hope I don’t frighten the bus load of tourists passing by my property in my HazMat outfit!

Have a good weekend from Living well at Langwell!