In praise of...Common Hogweed

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In praise of...Common Hogweed

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A few weeks ago I praised... (take a deep breath)...dandelions.

Today, is the turn of another native plant that is not especially loved, the Common Hogweed, that familiar upright white flower of road verges and hedgerows

Before I go any further, I need to be clear that I am not talking the Invasive Non-native Species called Giant Hogweed, which should be avoided at all costs. Growing to 3 metres tall and incredibly robust, that is the plant which, should you get a bit of sap on your skin, reacts with sunlight to cause horrible and long-lasting blistering. To think that was introduced into this country as a garden plant....

Anyway, no, this is all about the native and rather ubiquitous Common Hogweed, growing to normally chest height at most, and in flower from high summer right through until now.

It is in the carrot family, which used to be the called the Umbellifers and is now the vowel-filled tongue-twister, Apiaceae. It includes Cow Parsley, Angelica and indeed Carrot, and their flowers typically are arranged in an umbel, which is like an upside down umbrella.

So why celebrate Common Hogweed? Well, it just seems to pack in the insects like almost no other plant.

Here are some critters that I photographed on Common Hogweed in ten minutes in my aunt's garden the other day:

We start with a Halophilus hoverfly. Note the humbig stripes on the back (thorax). This is one of the hoverflies whose grubs live in ponds, rather than eating aphids

We then have a face only its mother could love - this is a fly called Tachina fera. Nice name; I can imagine a beautiful actress being called that.

I also saw ichneumon flies, Honeybees and Thick-kneed Beetle. But I really wanted to concentrate on these next two.

Here's the first. It's a hoverfly, but have a close look - what do you notice?

Hopefully you have spotted that it has got what I might call 'thunder thighs' on its back legs. And there's only one hoverfly that has these - Syritta pipiens.

And then how about this little insect? It is tiny, only about half a centimetre long, with little black smudges in its wings. It and many of its friends were walking about on the open flowers, supping at the nectar, and waving their little wings like semaphore.

And all of that makes it a fly called a sepsis fly (there are several different types).

I'm no insect expert, so I hope it shows is that insects other than butterflies and dragonflies aren't a total no-go area; look hard and you can begin to see things you recognise that have a fascination all of their own.

I also bet if you went out and found a Hogweed flower and looked closely, you'd find one or all of these insects, plus probably others that I didn't see.

And if you do see Tachina fera, just remember that if you think  she didn't look too great from the front, she looks even worse from the back!

  • Very nice Adrian, totally agree, a much undervalued plant, host to all sorts not just as a nectar source - do Ivy next - its buzzing at the mo....... Your Helophilus is H pendulus and just to note, Neoascia sp Hovers also have thunder thighs........