Wild Flower of the Week – Cow Parsley and Hemlock
There are several wild flowers with white or, occasionally, yellow flowers held in upright umbels. Although the Umbelliferae have now been renamed Apiaceae by botanists, umbellifer is still a useful English word to describe these plants. The commonest is Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris (see picture above). As the name indicates, it likes light shade in open woodland although it is also frequent along hedgerows and banks. It is a short lived but vigorous grower which has increased due to enrichment of many verges by fertiliser run off from fields.
Children often used the hollow stems and seeds of Cow Parsley as pea shooters. This would not be a good idea with the umbellifer shown in the photograph above which is Hemlock, Conium maculatum. One of the most poisonous plants in Europe, it was used in the past as a method of execution – most famously with Socrates. It likes disturbed ground and damp soil, so is often found on field margins or by the coast. It tends to have a rank smell and the stems have purple blotches, but these may not be visible unless you look closely. The family also contains many important garden vegetables and herbs such as carrot, parsnip, fennel and parsley.