Giant hogweed: Look but don’t touch


ONE of the most spectacular plants you will ever see in this country is giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). It can grow to 16ft or even more with leaves up to 5ft wide. The flower heads can be 3ft across. The stem is bright green with purple spots and blotches.

It is native to the Caucasus Mountains of Central Asia and was introduced to Britain as an ornamental plant in the 19th century. It is found particularly near water courses.

Unfortunately the leaves and stem are covered with little white hairs that produce sap which is phototoxic, which means that if you get it on your skin it is not protected from sunlight, and you can get nasty blisters, as here, which can last several weeks. In severe cases there can be scarring.

This has caused a near-hysterical reaction in some quarters with demands for campaigns to eradicate it. Sometimes it is called ‘the most dangerous plant in Britain’, though there are plenty of worthier contenders for the title. These include the widely-grown garden plant aconitum, also known as monkshood or wolf’s-bane, laburnum, deadly nightshade, yew and the wild flower corncockle. All can kill if ingested.

It is often individuals trying to cut down giant hogweed who are injured. Personally, while not minimising the problem, I would have thought that it would be simply be sensible to avoid touching the plant. It is surely distinctive enough to recognise. Obviously children and dogs should be kept away.

Anyway if you wish to see this extraordinary plant before the hogweed vigilantes get their way, the garden products review site WhatShed? have helpfully produced a map showing all the giant hogweed sites notified to the Biological Records Centre’s iRecord system. It is quite fascinating to zoom in on your area, almost to your own house. There is a facility to add your own sighting. I would add that Alan and I tried to track down our nearest location last week but failed, probably because I made a mess of using Google maps. We plan to go hunting again this week.

You can see the map here.

Sheep of the Week

LAST week commenter JohnInCambridge mentioned the sheep in Iceland, saying he didn’t know what breed they are. I like a challenge and after extensive research I can tell him that they are . . . Icelandic sheep. There are a few flocks in Britain so I felt I could have them as a Sheep of the Week.

The breed is derived from Northern European short-tailed sheep, for thousands of years the only type in North Europe. They were taken to Iceland by Viking settlers in about 874. Since they have not been crossed with others they are said to be one of the purest breeds in the world.

There is a good article about them here.

And here is a video about the autumn round-up after they have spent the short summer on the uplands. There are some stunning images. Iceland looks well worth a visit.

There is more information from the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of the British Isles here.


MY favourite car of all time is the beautiful Jaguar E-type, closely followed by most other Jags. Walking along our country road last Sunday I saw a number of classic Jaguars and realised there was a rally. I managed to snap a few and a friend has identified them (I don’t know if he is right).

Jaguar XK 120


E-type V12

E-type maybe plus 2

The sad thing is that I have only ever been in a Jaguar once, for a five-minute trip round the block.


I WOULD like to quote a comment on yesterday’s TCW article ‘The green agenda is not about saving the planet, but gaining wealth and power’ which featured a brilliant short film by Ben Pile in which he clearly sets out how billionaires are using their wealth to set a global agenda which brings them more wealth.

Commenter Jan Hanape wrote: ‘There is a massive solar farm going in near me. By the time they have razed the ground, ripped out the hedgerows, transported and installed the thing using huge vehicles and machinery in a lovely unspoilt district for weeks on end, a great deal of damage will have been done to the local environment in return for a very small addition to the national grid. The green agenda is a total farce. The countryside around me is being utterly despoiled by housing estates and new cycle lanes which are proliferating like mushrooms. Fields, woodlands, hedgerows are being bulldozed like never before. It is horrific. Add on the fact that this is being done in spring to areas of habitat containing nesting birds and mammals and a picture of utter contempt for life emerges. Mass extinction is being caused by such greed all over the world, and the green agenda is part of the problem.’

I have remarked before how the environmental activists should not waste their time on inevitable climate change (which has been happening since the dawn of time) and trying to rid the earth of vital CO2, but should look at the despoliation of nature and wildlife taking place all around them. Building housing on fields, using pesticides that kill bees and fish, installing wind turbines which wreak havoc on bird, insect and bat populations. Further afield there is shocking pollution caused by extracting minerals for ‘green’ technology, and wildfires resulting from misguided policies of not clearing fallen timber. There are so many pressing issues that need action, but I suppose they are not as exciting as letting down car tyres or gluing your face to the M25.


INSTEAD of wild flowers, this week I could not resist showing off this cactus from our tiny greenhouse. It is a rebutia hybrid called Katy.


FINALLY, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address:


2 Replies to “Giant hogweed: Look but don’t touch”

  1. May I just say how much I enjoy your Old Curiosity Shop of a website. All kinds of topics which invariably interest me, plus the amazing music from which it sprang. You even had the Grateful Dead for the first time I can remember the other day, though I can’t say I would start with Casey Jones!

    1. Thanks for the kind remarks – we have a lot of fun doing it. Actually there are a few Grateful Dead tracks, not least Me and Bobby McGee which is one of my top ten tracks of all time. See here.

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