Cow Parsnip, Indian Celery, Heracleum lanatum garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest

Roadside Veggies: Cow Parsnip, Indian Celery

Between Sooke & Port Renfrew are moist roadside drainage ditches brimming with Heracleum lanatum.

Cow Parsnip bloom, Indian Celery, Heracleum lanatum garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Commonly named Cow Parsnip or Indian Parsley, you’d expect a gourmet treat, but it’s not something I’d eat.

Cow Parsnip leaf, Indian Celery, Heracleum lanatum garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

The massive maple leaf distinguishes it from the more toxic Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)  & poisonous Water  Hemlock (Cicuta).

Even still, this beauty contains a milky sap that is photo-toxic, kinda like euphorbia & poinsettia.  Once exposed to sunshine, any skin that contacted the sap burns & blisters. Nasty.

Cow Parsnip, Indian Celery, Heracleum lanatum garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

But wait – there are some positive notes:

  • The giant flowers are landing pads for butterflies  It’s important to many native pollinators.
  • In its happy place, Cow parsnip can reach 3 metres  – – that’s 10 feet tall!  That’s architecturally impressive.
  • It’s hairy – and deer seem to avoid fuzzy plants.  Perhaps they’re finicky that way.
  • Cow Parsnip is said to be kinda stinky.  I didn’t notice, but now that I think about it, I wandered into this patch of Cow Parsnip after 5 days of camping – – so my own stink may have been masking all other smells…
    Deer seem to avoid fragrant plants, so there’s a fair chance that Cow Parsnip is safe from them.
Cow Parsnip, Indian Celery, Heracleum lanatum garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Hmmm, I might not be desperate enough for its food value, but I just might find a spot for Cow Parsnip in our landscape.  Imagine this self-seeding biennial as a garden ornamental at the back of a moist bed or border.

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