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Common Hogweed

Heracleum sphondylium

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Apiaceae (Carrot)
Life Cycle:
Biennial or Perennial
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Ditches, fields, grassland, hedgerows, meadows, riverbanks, roadsides, waterside, woodland.

White, 5 petals
Large white umbels to 20cm across, no lower bracts. Sometimes pink, less often purple and rarely greenish-white.
A dark streaked, heart-shaped, flattened, oval wing called a schizocarp (a type of dry fruit that splits open upon ripening).
Alternate, compound leaves. 1 to 3 pinnate with very broad toothed leaflets.
Hogweed is named after the unpleasant smell of its flowers. The flowers are said to smell like pigs and is the reason why they attract so many flies.
Other Names:
Cow Parsnip, Eltrot, Hogweed, Keck, Limberscrimps.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Heracleum sphondylium, also known as cow parsnip or hogweed, is a species of perennial herb in the Apiaceae family. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. The plant can grow up to 2 meters tall and has large, finely divided leaves and clusters of small white flowers. The plant prefers damp, shady habitats such as woods, meadows and along riverbanks. It has been traditionally used as a medicinal plant, primarily for respiratory and skin conditions. However, it is considered toxic if consumed in large amounts and should be handled with care. The sap of the plant contains a photosensitizing chemical that can cause severe skin reactions in some individuals, particularly if exposed to sunlight. So, it's best to avoid contact with the plant, especially when it's in flower.


Common Hogweed, also known as Heracleum sphondylium, is a plant species native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the carrot family and can grow up to two meters tall. The plant has hollow stems with purple spots and large, flat, umbel-shaped flower heads that can measure up to 20cm in diameter. While the plant may be aesthetically pleasing, it is important to note that it can also be dangerous.

Common Hogweed contains a sap that can cause skin irritation, particularly in sunlight. When the sap comes into contact with the skin, it can cause blisters, redness, and itching. In severe cases, it can cause burns that take months to heal, and the affected area may become sensitive to sunlight for several years. The plant's sap contains furanocoumarins, which can cause phytophotodermatitis, a skin reaction that occurs when the skin is exposed to the sun after contact with certain plants.

In addition to its harmful effects on human skin, Common Hogweed can also have a negative impact on the environment. The plant is known to be invasive and can outcompete native plant species, reducing biodiversity in ecosystems where it is present.

Despite the potential dangers associated with Common Hogweed, it is not all bad news. The plant has been used in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including stomach pain, asthma, and even snake bites. It is also a source of food for wildlife, particularly for bees and other pollinators, who are attracted to the plant's nectar.

If you come across Common Hogweed, it is important to take precautions. Avoid touching the plant with your bare skin and wear protective clothing if you need to handle it. If you do come into contact with the sap, wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible, and avoid exposure to sunlight for at least 48 hours. If you experience severe symptoms, such as blistering or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

Common Hogweed, like many other invasive plant species, can spread rapidly and disrupt natural ecosystems. The plant can outcompete native plants for resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. This can lead to a reduction in biodiversity, which can have a ripple effect throughout the entire ecosystem. In addition, Common Hogweed can also alter soil chemistry and moisture levels, which can negatively impact soil microorganisms and other important components of the ecosystem.

Despite its negative impacts, Common Hogweed does have some positive qualities as well. The plant's flowers provide a valuable source of nectar for bees and other pollinators, and its seeds can be a food source for birds and small mammals. Additionally, Common Hogweed has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, respiratory problems, and even skin conditions.

Managing Common Hogweed can be challenging, but there are some steps that can be taken to control its spread. One method is to manually remove the plant, taking care to wear protective clothing to avoid contact with the sap. Another option is to use herbicides, although this method can be harmful to other plants and wildlife in the area. In some cases, introducing natural predators of the plant, such as certain insects or fungi, can also be effective in controlling its spread.

One important thing to note about Common Hogweed is that it can be confused with other similar-looking plants, including Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). Giant Hogweed is a much larger and more dangerous relative of Common Hogweed, with the potential to cause severe burns and blindness. It is important to be able to properly identify Common Hogweed in order to avoid confusion with this more dangerous plant.

Common Hogweed is often found in meadows, fields, and along roadsides, and it prefers moist soil and full sun. It is an annual or biennial plant, meaning that it completes its life cycle within two years. The plant typically grows from a seed in its first year, producing a rosette of leaves. In the second year, it grows a tall stem with multiple branches and produces flowers.

In terms of its traditional medicinal uses, Common Hogweed has been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments. The plant has been used as a diuretic, to treat digestive issues, and to reduce fever. It has also been used topically to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Common Hogweed is also known to be an important plant for certain butterfly species, such as the Swallowtail butterfly. The plant's leaves serve as a food source for the butterfly larvae, while its flowers provide nectar for the adult butterflies. This demonstrates how even plants that may be considered invasive can have important ecological roles.

One challenge in managing Common Hogweed is that its seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 15 years, making it difficult to completely eradicate the plant from an area. This highlights the importance of early detection and rapid response in managing invasive plant species.

In addition to its potential negative impacts on human health, Common Hogweed can also impact the economy. The presence of the plant can reduce the productivity of agricultural land and increase the cost of maintaining infrastructure such as roads and railways, as the plant can damage these structures.

To prevent the spread of Common Hogweed, it is important to properly dispose of any plant material, including seeds and flowers, and to avoid introducing the plant to new areas. Additionally, reporting any sightings of the plant to local authorities can help with early detection and management efforts.

In conclusion, Common Hogweed is a plant species that has both positive and negative qualities. While it may be a valuable food source for wildlife and have traditional medicinal uses, it can also cause harm to human health and disrupt natural ecosystems. By taking precautions and managing its spread, we can appreciate the unique qualities of Common Hogweed while minimizing its potential negative impacts.


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Distribution Map

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