This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Photo. Stanley Crook
The fruits split apart when ripe, and they are winged, and thus aided in dispersal by the wind, and, being semi-detached when ripe, they are easily blown away.
Two microscopic fungi infest Hogweed, Puccinia pimpinellce and Protomyces macrosporus.
The plant is galled besides by Cecidomyia corrugans and C. heraclei. It is a food-plant or resort for the beetles Agapanthina lineato-collis, Bruchus pectinicornis, Phcedon tumidulus, the Lepidoptera Dasypolia templi, Eupithecia tripunctaria, Eucelis aurora, Depressaria depressella, D. heracleana, and the fly Acidia heraclei.
Heracleum, Pliny, is from the hero Hercules (Greek form, Heracles). Sphondylium, Dioscorides, is from sphondylos, a vertebra, because of the jointed stem.
This plant is known by such names as Bear's Breech, Bear-skeiters, Beggar-weed, Bilders, Billers, Broad Kelk, Bunnel, Bunnets, Bunnun, Bunwand, Caddell, Cadweed, Camlicks, Clog-weed, Cow-cakes, Cow-clog-weed, Cow-keeks, Cow-keep, Cow-mumble, Cow-parsnip, Cushia, Dryland Scout, Ellrot, Ha-ho Keck, Hogweed, Kedlock, Kex, Kejlus, Kelkkecksy, Kesh, Dry Kesh, Kewsies, Limper-scrimp, Limper-scrump, Madnep, Meadow Parsnep, Old Rot, Pig's Bubbles, Pig's Cole, Pig's Parsnip, Pigweed, Piskies, Rabbit Meat, Sweet Biller, Swine Weed.
In connection with the name Cow Parsnip there is a story: "An old woman in the parish (St. Fergus) gives her cows a cree full of this plant in the season for supper, and she says that the milk-pail next morning bears testimony to its virtues". Other names blended with "Cow" have reference to its use as fodder for them, etc. In regard to Hogweed, Coles says "hogs feed upon it with a great deal of greediness".
In Kamchatka the dry stalks are collected and stored, and yield a sugar-like substance, like liquorice, which is eaten. A spirit is also prepared from the stalks fermented with bilberries in Prussia. In Poland and Lithuania ale is made from the leaves and seeds. Forty pounds of the stalk yield 1 lb. of sugar. The young shoots are eaten as asparagus.
Essential Specific Characters: 131. Heracleum Sphondylium, L. - Stem tall, stout, furrowed, hairy, leaves large, pinnate, rough, leaflets pinnatifid, flowers white, large, at first pink, in a flat umbel, outer irregular, fruit glabrous.