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: Fuzzy Cow Parsnip

"Spring" is a taunting name for a season when so many plants are anything but eager to greet days that are often only grudgingly warm. "Cautious," "Creep," or "Crawl" would be more accurate. Bulbs and some early-season woodies really do "spring" into action at the merest hint of winter's end. Most perennials, though, bide their time.


Cow parnips are big exceptions. Their foliage is gigantic by June, so must get the earliest possible start, overnight freezes of early spring be damned. Below, the early-spring prowess of fuzzy cow parsnip. Its clump of emerging foliage is already over a foot across when sprigs of other "early to risers" such as daylilies or peonies isn't larger than an inch or two.


Heracleum lanatum 041318 hand overall 915


As is typical for the cow parsnips—and I write from experience, growing about four other species—emerging foliage of Heracleum lanatum is early, thick and broad, and largely horizontal in orientation. Why don't still-frequent frosts or even late-season snows—or ravenous herbivores—put the kibosh on it?


Herbivores are deterred at least in part by the fuzziness. They don't call this Heracleum "fuzzy" cow parsnip for nothing: The leaves and stems feel like starched velvet. 


Heracleum lanatum 041318 for detail 915


Even the species name, lanatum, means fuzzy. This is a bit of a puzzle in that other cow parsnips are so much more fuzzy that they are best termed bristly. Perhaps the implication with Heracleum lanatum is that the foliage is merely fuzzy.


Foliage of Heracleum lanatum may also escape browers because the growth of some other cow parsnips is severely allergenic. This species' leaves are not, but perhaps their rough texture alone—or the memory of eating other Heracleum foliage that was both rough and dangerous—causes most herbivores to avoid it. Think of this, then, as reverse "herd immunity:" If those other cow parsnips are awful to eat, it's best for the herds of herbivores to leave this one alone. 


The leaves' ground-hugging orientation provides at least two benefits. In spring, the ground is nearly always warmed during the day. All night long, that heat radiates upward as chillier—and, therefore, denser—night air descends. Thick and overlapping horizontal growth stays closer to the emerging heat and, perhaps, even slows its upward drift.


Plus, spring is the season to establish territoriality in terms of the sun. Growth that is horizontal, overlapping, large, thick, and early is more likely to retard, out-compete, or smother nearby competition. It's no accident, then, that some of the most successful perennials or biennials have rosettes of growth right at ground level that are prominent or even formidiable. In addition to Heracleum, I'm thinking in particular of AcanthusCynara, Hosta, OnopordumVerbascumand Taraxicum, the omnipresent lawn weed, the dandelion. Even amid such thug-like competition, Heracleum stands—or, rather, spreads—out.


As spring heats up toward summer, foliage of fuzzy cow parsnip matures to a more-or-less erect posture. It is still taller than almost anything else herbaceous and, by then, the competition from more slender stems—grasses and weeds that can sneak upward between the huge Heracleum leaves—is ferocious. If the Heracleum leaves had remained horizontal, those interlopers could combine with growth around the parsnip's perimeter to cast shade.




Here's how to grow this architectural as well as edible beauty—plus pictures of it at full height, in full bloom.


Here's an in-depth look at the ravishing and rare blue-leaved cow parsnip, Heracleum antasiaticum.


Here's an in-depth look at the giants of the genus, the notoriously allergenic Heracleum mantegazzianum and its big brother, H. sosnowskyi. 


FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!


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


* indicates required