Heracleum maximum

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Cow parsnip
Heracleum lanatum from High Trail.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Heracleum
Species: H. maximum
Binomial name
Heracleum maximum

Heracleum lanatum Michx.

Heracleum maximum, cow parsnip (also known as Indian celery, Indian rhubarb or pushki) is the only member of the genus Heracleum native to North America. Its classification has caused some difficulty, with recent authoritative sources referring to it variously as Heracleum maximum or Heracleum lanatum, or as either a subspecies, H. sphondylium subsp. montanum, or a variety, H. sphondylium var. lanatum, of the common hogweed (H. sphondylium). The classification given here follows ITIS.


Cow parsnip is distributed throughout most of the continental United States except the Gulf Coast and a few neighboring states. It occurs from sea level to elevations of about 2,700 metres (9,000 ft),[1] and is especially prevalent in Alaska. It is listed as "Endangered" in Kentucky and "Special Concern" in Tennessee. In Canada, it is found in each province and territory, except Nunavut.[2] It may be weedy or invasive in portions of its range[citation needed].

The seeds are 8–12 mm (0.3–0.5 in) long and 5–8 mm (0.2–0.3 in) wide.


Cow parsnip is a tall herb, reaching to heights of over 2 metres (7 ft). The genus name Heracleum (from "Hercules") refers to the very large size of all parts of these plants.[3] Cow Parsnip has the characteristic flower umbels of the carrot family (Apiaceae), about 20 centimetres (8 in) across; these may be flat-topped or rounded, and are always white. Sometimes the outer flowers of the umbel are much larger than the inner ones. The leaves are very large, up to 40 cm (16 in) across, and divided into lobes. The stems are stout and succulent. The seeds are 8–12 mm (0.3–0.5 in) long and 5–8 mm (0.2–0.3 in) wide.[1]

The stems and leaves contain furocoumarins, chemicals responsible for the characteristic rash of erythematous vesicles (burn-like blisters) and subsequent hyperpigmentation that occurs after getting the clear sap onto one's skin. The chemical is photosensitive, with the rash occurring only after exposure to ultraviolet light. Because of this, phytophotodermatitis may occur after using a weed-eater to remove the plants on a sunny day.

The leaves are very large, up to 40 cm (16 in) across, and divided into lobes.


Indigenous North Americans have had a variety of uses for cow parsnip. It could be an ingredient in poultices applied to bruises or sores. The young stalks and leaf stems were used for food once the outer skin was peeled off. The dried stems were used as drinking straws for the old or infirm, or made into flutes for children.

A yellow dye can be made from the roots, and an infusion of the flowers can be rubbed on the body to repel flies and mosquitoes.[4]

In Ktunaxa, spoken by the Kutenai (the Kootenai, or Kootenay Nation) of the Northern Rockies, the word for cow parsnip is wumash (wumaǂ).[5]

In Konkow, spoken by the Concow (Konkow or Koyom'kawi, as they refer to themselves) of the Maidu culture in Northern California the word is chou’-mē-ō.[6]

In Lilloouet, spoken by the Northern St̓át̓imcets of BC, Canada, the word is hákwa7.[7]


  1. ^ a b Norman F. Weeden (1996), A Sierra Nevada Flora, Wilderness Press, ISBN 0-89997-204-7 
  2. ^ "Heracleum maximum Bartram". PLANTS Profile. United States Department of Agriculture; Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  3. ^ Elizabeth L. Horn (1998), Sierra Nevada Wildflowers, Mountain Press, ISBN 0-87842-388-5 
  4. ^ "BRIT - Native American Ethnobotany Database". herb.umd.umich.edu. 
  5. ^ "FirstVoices- Ktunaxa. Plants: food plants: words". Retrieved 2012-07-07. 
  6. ^ Chesnut, Victor King (1902). Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office. p. 404. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  7. ^ Adrian, Marcel. "Northern St̓át̓imcets words". members.firstvoices.com. 

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