Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Blue-leaved Cow Parsnip

Heracleum antasiaticum 062715 640


How large are these leaves? The large yellow potentilla at the right seems more like an alpine dwarf. Each leaf of the swarm of mayapple at the back is a foot across, but is just a wannabe next to these monstrous blue ones. 


This species of cow parsnip is native from Turkey to the Caucasus, not the Far East of the more infamous giants Heracleum mantegazzianum and H. sosnowskyi. And so, this plant is plausibly ant-asiatic: Heracleum antasiaticum. Just the blade of a leaf can be two feet wide and long; the leaf stem adds another two feet. The leaves' color and shape are both distinctive: Cow parsnip foliage is normally mid-green, not blue, and its leaf lobes are normally pointed, not rounded. 


Heracleum antasiaticum 062715 closer 640 


The picture below shows Heracleum antasiaticum in its native habitat. The immense branched spikes of dinner-plate-sized flowerheads are iconic, and telegraph "cow parsnip!" to humans as well as pollinators. The exposed higher-elevation site suggests an adaptation of this species to its mountainous homelands: Comparative shortness and drought tolerance. Even in full flower, this cow parsnip isn't likely to exceed four or five feet. The huge Far East forms favor moist lowland meadows, and can be twelve to twenty feet tall. Growing on this windswept and, very likely, prone-to-dryness slope, they'd blow right over long before they were large enough to flower.


Heracleum antasiaticum in bloom 640


Heracleum antasiaticum is monocarpic, meaning that it flowers once, then dies. It can take several years for a given plant to mature sufficiently to flower; my plant is three years old and has still not bloomed. To my knowledge, this species isn't currently available at any nursery in North America. (Many years ago, I purchased the antecedent of my current plant from the much-missed Seneca Hill Nursery.)


Cow parsnips overall are rarely seen in gardens, because they all tend to self-seed rampantly and some have sap that can cause a contact dermatitis so severe that hospitalization and scarring are possible. Heracleum antasiaticum isn't allergenic, but can seed around. Perhaps next year my plant will flower; I'll harvest seeds carefully, in hopes of keeping the species established in my own gardens without also allowing it to escape into the surrounding woods. 


Heracleum nomenclature is confusing, and H. antasiaticum might be the same species as H. laciniatum, H. marginatum, H. speciosum, H. stevenii, H. pyrenaicum, and H. villosum. Other sources rename Heracleum entirely as Barysoma, Pastinaca, and Spondylium. Let me know if you find a seed source for any of these Near Eastern forms, whichever species they actually are.


For gardeners in Great Britain, here's a source for incredible species and even variegated forms, none of which seem available in North America. What's better than huge—even huge and blue? Huge with a contrasting edge of cream. Or huge and solid gold. Sigh.



Here's how to grow Heracleum lanatum, which is the rare perennial species in this genus of biennials. Its foliage is huge as well, but in the more usual mid-green, and with cow parsnip's typical jagged edges. It matures to slightly larger than H. antasiaticum: four to five feet high and wide. Its hardiness, culture, and handling are similar. 


Here's how to grow the giant of the genus, the biennial Heracleum sosnowskyi. Its hardiness, culture, and handling are similar. It can be two to five times the size of H. lanatum, and needs careful siting and handling to keep in control: As with nearly-as-large Heracleum mantegazzianum, all parts of H. sosnowskyi can cause a severe contact dermatitis. Plus, both are self-seeders, and can proliferate into a dangerous infestation if allowed to escape from the garden.

FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!


Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:


* indicates required