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

Fuzzy Cow Parsnip

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What flower is this?  Nope, not the carrot of giants.  It's the parsnip of cows.  Fuzzy Cow Parsnip, actually.  The Cow Parsnip that's Fuzzy, not the Parsnip for Fuzzy Cows.  The fuzz is on the leaves and the stems—a bit, especially when they're first unfurling—so the plant's Latin name is lanatum, for wooly.  Heracleum lanatum.

 

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No idea how Heracleum could be the right name for this family of carrot-on-steriods plants, though.  Yes, it's the Greek version of Herculaneum, the city that, along with Pompei, was buried in the Mt. Vesuvius eruption.  And this has to do with garden horticulture how? 

 

Back to the plant at hand, then, which had awakened only in April but was full-height and in full-bloom by the end of May.  And what blooms!  Countless small white flowers in small round groups that are themselves arrayed into giant circles of bloom almost a foot across.

 

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At almost five feet tall, it's a plant you can see down the block.

 

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Fuzzy Cow Parsnip is actually one of the runts of the bunch, other relations of which can thrust up to ten, twelve, even fifteen feet.  Those towering species mature a bit later—it just takes more time to build a skyscraper than a triple-decker—but by late June you can still expect the high-altitude, huger-than-huge, Queen Anne's Lace flower-heads that will still be high overhead even if you're on a stepladder.  They're as unprecedented to behold as they are challenging to handle; see below for some major caveats.

 

Meanwhile, Fuzzy Cow Parsnip can fit into merely adventuresome gardens instead of truly crazy ones, whose adventuresome gardeners might even want to try having the plant for lunch.  The leaves, stems, and roots are all edible.  The greens taste like celery, and the roots like the lovechild of parsnip and ginger.  I'll divide my clump this Fall, and by Spring 2013, we'll have enough to spare for a harvest.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this architectural as well as edible beauty:

 

Latin Name

Heracleum lanatum

Common Name

Fuzzy Cow Parsnip

Family

Apiaceae, the Carrot family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 9

Habit

Large-scale, clumping, upright perennial.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Four or five feet tall as well as wide.

Texture

Big-boned, large-scale, tropical.  Or, if your preferences are to the delicate and modest, you'll probably describe cow parsnip as coarse.

Grown for

the large, jagged-edged, multi-pointed, and somewhat fuzzy green leaves, as big as any rhubarb's but on the flower stems as well as from the basal clump, gving the plant a much greater overall volume than any rhubarb.

 

the startingly-large heads of white flowers, like juiced-up Queen Anne's Lace nearly a foot across, atop thick and "structural-looking" stems, which bring an architectural form to the late-Spring garden.

 

its rarity in cultivation, and hence the distinctive variety that it brings to expanses of more familiar horticulture.

 

the thick pale-colored roots that are, indeed, parsnippy.  Apparently, cows adore them, and—with cooking—humans can too.

Flowering season

Mid-Spring: Late May in Rhode Island.

Culture

Rich soil, plenty of water, plenty of sun. 

How to handle it

Heraclea are almost alarmingly vigorous in early Spring, and their enormous foliage can completely and quickly swamp everything within reach.  In the wild, this tactic ensures better access to full sun and soil moisture; in a garden, you'll need to give these plants enough room in the first place.  The whole point of them is their uniquely large scale and size, which any kind of restraint would diminish. 

 

Consider pairing cow parsnip with deeply shade-tolerant, wide-spreading, and dense groundcovers, which can tolerate the 'nip's seasonal "avalanche" of foliage, and also fill in again in late Summer, when most heracleums have long ago gone dormant.  Vinca?   Fast-spreading ferns, e..g, hay fern?  Ivy?  Variegated bishop's weed?  It's best to partner this gigantic thug only with other thugs. 

 

Heraclea's eagerness to get up-and-at-'em in Spring is balanced by their eagerness to wrap up their business and go dormant by high Summer.  The biennial species die completely after flowering; even the perennial H. lanatum gets shabby by August.  So they are all best sited as out-of-the-way focal points, where you need to walk over to enjoy them but then don't need to look at that spot later in the season when they're through or still collapsing week by week. 

 

Although they love rich soil and plenty of water, heraclea aren't bog or pond dwellers.  Instead, site them like you would rhubarb, in fabulous soil that also has good drainage.

 

Dead-head without fail to control self-seeding. 

Downsides

All heraclea are champs at self-seeding.  Grow them all responsibly, dead-heading as soon as the flowers have passed.  For the biennial species, leave only a small flower portion to mature to seeds, and be alert for out-of-bounds volunteers.  H. lanatum is a true perennial, so can be dead-headed totally.

Variants

There are several other species of cow parsnip, one of which, H. mantegazzianum, has unique bristling canes and foliage that are laden, who knows why, with a chemical that, even from casual contact, can make human skin extraordinarily sun-sensitive.  Unlike poison ivy, there's great variance in a given individual's sensitivity.  Severe and even disfiguring rashes can result, though, so this species is now illegal to sell.  I'm not allergic to H. lanatum, but am quite allergic to H. mantegazzianum, which I've learned to handle only when wearing gloves, long pants, and long sleeves.   

 

All the heraclea are bold and even staggering creatures; I'm also growing H. sosnowskyi, a Far-East Siberian native that is reputed to be the absolute mightiest of the lot: to fifteen feet tall.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By seed as well as by division in early Spring.

Native habitat

Native to the Pacific Coast, where mild Winters and cool Summers favor the largest growth.  Also established in almost the entire Continental US and Canada except for the Gulf States.

 
 
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