Hogweed gets a bad name sometimes because of the notoriety of the invasive, non native thug of our riversides, Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. This not only spreads prolifically where it takes hold but causes a public health hazard due to its photo-toxic sap. This means that if the juice of the plant on your skin is exposed to sunlight it reacts and causes nasty blistering.
Common Hogweed however, Heracleum sphondylium is a much gentler and altogether more benign wildflower. Quite butch perhaps next to its fellow umbellifer of woodlands and hedgerows the Cow Parsley but umbellifers in general are superb for pollinating insects, particularly for hover flies, beetles and butterflies. At this time of year, when these flat topped umbels of creamy white abound in our countryside an even the smallest of urban and suburban green spaces, on a warm fine day you may see dozens of insects upon a single flower head.
I took some photos on Tuesday of one such example, by the old railway trail in Stamford Bridge. I don’t profess to be an expert on identifying myriad small flies and beetles but feast your eyes on the images, and then go find your own Hogweed patch to watch closely. Some beautifully coloured beetles and hover flies may come along and being atop a metre tall stem and presenting a flat disc of flowers, they are superbly easy to inspect and photograph closely.
incidentally, Giant Hogweed is pretty unmistakeable in flower by its sheer size. Several metres tall and individual flower heads can be up to a metre across. If you find them on your local river or public space, make sure that your local environment agency office or local authority are aware, as I have done for the locations by The Derwent in Stamford Bridge.