The scientific name of the Cow parsnip plant is Heracleum lanatum and the plant is an elegant blooming perennial native to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The Cow parsnip plant is common in forested areas as well as grasslands, shrub lands, meadows, alpine regions, and even riparian habitats. The Cow parsnip plant is actually an important forage species for numerous animals. Continue reading to learn more about Cow parsnip plant.

The Cow parsnip plant which botanical name is Heracleum lanatum is easy to confuse with several other plants in the carrot family. Some of these plants can actually be very dangerous, so identification is extremely very important. The cow parsnip plant is an herbaceous flowering plant and is a wild plant that develops umbels of tiny white flowers in a cloud atop tall stems. The plants that are similar to cow parsnip plant also develop the same umbels and have similar forms. Water hemlock, Queen Anne’s lace, poison hemlock, and giant hogweed all bear the same flower type and they have similar feathery leaves.   

Furthermore, the Cow parsnip plant is a flowering dicot that can grow up to ten feet in height. The plant is characterized by large one to 1 ½ foot across, serrated palmate leaves. The stems of the plant are erect, stout, and they have small thorn-like protuberances. The flowers are also a creamy white, lacy, flat-topped cluster that may grow up to a foot (31 cm.) in diameter. This smaller flower size is one key to ruling out the poisonous giant hogweed, which has about two foot wide blooms and can grow up to twenty feet tall. The Cow parsnip plant growing conditions are similar to this plant, but its cousins, Queen Anne’s lace and poison hemlock, prefer drier locations and water hemlock is a riparian plant.


Cow Parsnip Plant Info

The Cow parsnip plants relatives are all poisonous to one degree or another. Can you actually eat cow parsnip? The plant is not toxic, but the juice can really cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Washing the affected area and avoiding sunlight for a few days can also reduce irritation. The Cow parsnip plants are eaten by deer, elk, moose, and livestock. In fact, Cow parsnip is even planted as forage. Most Native Americans ate the inside of the stem and boiled the roots to extract the sugar. The Cow parsnip plants are also known as Indian parsley or Indian rhubarb. By contrast, its relatives, poison hemlock and water hemlock, are deadly and giant hogweed is extremely toxic to skin, causing large, weeping, painful blisters. Queen Anne’s lace’s sap is less toxic but can also cause skin irritation.  


Cow Parsnip Plants Growing Conditions

Actually differentiating the 5 species can be done by the sizes of the plants and their flowers but also by the areas in which they grow. The Cow parsnip plant may be found in USDA zones three to nine. The Cow parsnip plant originated in Europe but naturalized in the United States and across Canada. The plant actually grows best in moist, shady locations but also thrives in open, drier areas. The Cow parsnip plant prefers loam or sandy loam with good drainage. The Cow parsnip plant may be found as an understory species but also in sub-arctic alpine zones. The Cow parsnip plant is a lovely plant that is important in many ecosystems and is also an attractive wildflower to grow in a perennial garden.   

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