December 16, 2010
Out of the blue and in the midst of the business of Estate management, car maintenance, and school break-ups, I came across something yesterday that made my botanical juices flow beyond all reason. Where the tyre shop jostles up to the liquor-store, and in a border, which some developer once "landscaped," but which is now a tangle of weedy shrubs and piles of rubble I found not one, but two dubious characters. Giant hogweed and coltsfoot. Coltsfoot is on the NZ restricted plant pest list of plants not to be sold, propagated or distributed. This is one of two sites in Rangiora, where I have seen it - surviving maybe from an old garden. In traditional herbal lore it was and still is used as a cough medicine. According to Gerard: A decoction made of the greene leaves and roots, or else a syrrup thereof, is good for the cough that proceedeth of a thin rheume. The botanical name reflects this use in the element tussi from the Latin word for cough.
since its normal habit is to tower above head height. For any dis-believers, this is not the common hogweed, which has a more restrained habit of growth. This creature appears to have been felled either by the Nor'West wind or recent work men's incursions into the border. Still, the bent stem has continued to feed the flower head, and now it is poised for admiration and study at knee level. The individual flowers in this great head can be seen in detail, the irregularity of the outer florets are easily discernable, and bumblebees forage greedily.
Growing giant hogweed bears a certain responsibility; to understand the effects of the sap on human skin. It can sensitise skin so that it is extremely sensitive to sunlight provoking a sunburn rash. Yet this same plant is fondly remembered by old Englishmen, who were once naughty little boys, for its hollow stems and their pea-shooter qualities.
A note for gardeners on the bending of plant stems. Gertrude Jekyll used this technique to bring tall colour down into the front of her borders and to fill gaps. A conceit to revive maybe in this wind-torn region.
Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum
Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara