Despite the many months of subzero temperature, bitterly cold wind and snow and ice this freeze dried cow parsnip remains standing with the seed pods firmly attached. Like a fossil of times long past it remains in a frozen state, preserved for the after-world to witness. In contrast to a fossil, however, it also symbolizes new life. When the ground has thawed and the air is warm again those frozen seeds will germinate and create the next generation of cow parsnips.
The mornings are noticeably chillier, its becoming dark earlier and the sun is rising later in the morning. Most of the plants have now finished flowering and are producing seeds, nuts and fruits. These are all sure signs of the inevitably approaching end of the summer and the arrival of the long, dark and cold season. I came across this spent inflorescence of a Cow Parsnip with the crownlike appendages giving away its identify. Apparently the seeds are edible and have a citrus-like flavour when used as a spice in cooking.
After the false alarm with the Giant Hogweed lookalike Cow Parsnip I have been seeing lots of these sheep in wolve’s clothing all over the place. The other day, as I spotted another specimen down at the Whitemud Ravine, I noticed that the inflorescence was busy with what looked like flies. I suspect the Cow Parsnip has something edible to offer to insects. While most of the insects looked like “regular” houseflies flies this is likely a complete misrepresentation of what they actually were. There seems to be a different looking fella on the far right of the flower that looks like a winged ant, perhaps it could be some sort of wasp, but I am going out on another limb here. Identifying insects is not trivial and I am an Uber noob at it to start with. It does appear the Cow Parsnips inflorescence attracts quite an attention from a wide range of insects such as mosquitoes, flies, hymenopterans, butterflies, thysanopterans and beetles.
As we were approaching the parking lot at the Savage Centre by the Whitemud Ravine my teen suddenly said “That looks like a Giant Hogweed”. His words made me stop in in my tracks. The statement was remarkable in the first place? How would a run of the mill teen know of Giant Hogweed? Secondly, Giant Hogweed has not been found in Alberta (yet) and finding its here would be unprecedented and very bad news indeed. Giant Hogweed (Heracelum mantegazzianum) is native to Eurasia. It was introduced in North America as an ornamental plant and soon started to throughout the continent. As if that would not be bad enough, the really bad news is that it is that the weed is highly noxious as the sap causes severe burns, blistering and scarring and even blindness if it gets in the eyes. There is plenty of graphic images online of the horrific damage the plant causes to skin (Google it at your own risk). It is considered as one of Canada’s most dangerous plants and has, to date, been found in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. According to Alberta Agriculture and Forestry the plant has not been found in Alberta yet and all plants reported as possible Giant Hogweed in Alberta have turned out to be Cow Parsnip. The plants belong to the same family and look very similar. The Giant Hogweed is sometimes even referred to by the name Cow Parsnip. The key difference between the plants though is that Cow Parsnip is harmless. We learned a lot that afternoon as we carefully inspected and photographed the plant. I still don’t know, however, where my teen learned about the Giant Hogweed.