Cow Parsnips hang out with the wrong crowd.

Cow parsnip flower (courtesy of OSU, Weed Species program)

They are somewhat toxic…sure. But really, it’s their bad news neighbors like Hog weed (sap can cause severe blisters and blindness) and Spotted water hemlock (the most deadly plant in North America) to really watch out for. NOTE: There are more than just these two!

By comparison, Cow Parsnip, is a walk in the park with blister scars and pigmentation only lasting for months or years.


Cow Parsnips are a North American native. It is found in almost every area within USDA plant hardiness zones 4a to 10a.

This plant is heavily found in Alaska. It is, like most plants, invasive in some areas, yet considered ‘endangered’ or of ‘special concern’ in others.

H. lanatum will grow in areas with full sun to partial shade. It will also tolerate a variety of soils if enough moisture and drainage is provided. Typically, this plant grows along roadsides and drainage ditches.


The flower of H. lanatum is very similar to other members of the carrot family. Small white flowers cover the umbrella looking bloom that can reach eight-inches across.  The leaves are very large (up to 16 inches), and the plant can reach nearly ten feet tall!

Being so tall makes it easy to look at the stout stem. The stem should be green and hairy. Stems for Spotted water hemlock are not hairy and Hogweed has purplish-red spots.

Knowing the differences can save your life.  

Current Use

Cow Parsnip often colonizes areas that frequently burn and has been used for post-fire colonizing and soil erosion stabilization. The plant is not fire resistant.

This plant can be an important food source for many animals such as livestock, deer, bear, moose, elk, upland game birds, waterfowl, and small mammals. It also functions as a wildlife larval host for butterflies and bees.

Livestock (such as horses, cows, goats, and sheep) sometimes have a hard time figuring out which plant is safe to eat.  Water hemlock poisoning common and causes death in livestock in as little as 15 minutes.

Past Uses

Indigenous people and American settlers sought out the plant as food. Young stems and thick flower stalks resemble celery (which gave rise to the common name “Indian celery”).

Stalks were peeled (required) and eaten raw or cooked. These stems resembled celery (which gave rise to the common name “Indian celery”).

Cow Parsnip stem (courtesy of OSU, Weed Species program)

Traditionally, Cow parsnip is used for treating skin problems (such as bruises or sores).

Warning! The clear sap can cause blisters and hyperpigmentation after exposure to ultraviolet light. The scars and pigmentation can last a long time.  

Before handling or consuming this plant be sure to learn more about how to protect yourself. USE CAUTION PLEASE.  

–Oregon State University, Nursery Weeds and photos (
–Plant Database (
–USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (
–USDA, Forest Service (
–Wikipedia (including: and

Have you ever watched the television program “Maine Cabin Masters”? It features a small group of friends that restore old cabins in Maine. They often refer to and use cedar during their restorations and provide interesting tidbits about the wood.   

Western Redcedar branches (royalty free photo from Unsplashed)

The cedar featured in “Maine Cabin Masters” is Northern White or Eastern White cedar (Thuja occidentalis) which is in the same Cypress family as our native Western Red Cedar. Neither tree is a true cedar. But, both are similar, were important cornerstones for indigenous peoples, and are still in use today.


Two easy ways to identify this evergreen is by its relatively thin, waxy sprays of scale-like leaves. Leaves form in opposite pairs at 90 degree angles to each other creating a spray. The sprays are green on top and slightly whitish below and can ultimately form a large drooping spray.  

Older branches are strongly aromatic. Like other evergreens, cedars create volatile oils to protect itself from pests. Branches are very flexible and have good tensile strength. Native Americans would use the branches to create strong cords, fishing line, twine, rope, particularly in situations where other materials might fray.

Cones are generally tiny and insignificant.

The bark is thick, spongy and fibrous. The bark forms long dark reddish-brown vertical clumps. A strip of the bark can be safely removed without harming the tree certain times of the year.

From a distance

Even from a distance, these trees are very large. Western Redcedars are generally larger than its eastern cousin ranging upwards of 230 feet with a trunk diameter up to about 23 feet. The tallest living Western Red Cedar is 195 feet and is near Lake Quinault, Washington). 

Both species live a long time. The oldest verified Western Red is older than 1460 years. The oldest Eastern white exceeds 1,653 years. Even though younger trees are sensitive to fire, older and larger cedars are more resistant. Stands will regenerate fairly quickly from seed.


Cedars do well along the Pacific Coast.  They thrive in moist, temperate environments, and will tolerate a wide variety of soil types including that with limestone, or moderately alkaline, to the commonly found highly acidic soils.

Like other trees, too much water (like flooding) is not a good thing and can lead to pest and disease problems.  Water saplings the first couple of years as the roots develop.


Cedar was and continues to be an important resource. Native Americans referred to the species as “long life maker” in reference to the many ways that they used the tree. Some tribes referred to themselves as “people of the redcedar” because of their necessity.  

Some products created by Native Americans include:

  • canoes, kayaks, paddles
  • Homes, roofs, mats
  • boxes, arrows, rope, cords, rings
  • masks, totem poles, ceremonial objects
  • vessels, baskets and bowls
  • clothing (capes, skirts, dresses)
  • medicine and soap

More recently, cedar has been used to make:

  • Shingles, siding, decking,
  • Paper, industrial boxes,
  • Fencing, outdoor furniture, and utility poles
  • Sail boats and kayaks,
  • Holiday wreathes

Cedar leaf oil is used in perfumes, soaps, deodorants, and insecticides. This oil is what makes the wood less susceptible to decay or insect damage.


Cedars provide cover and nesting areas for many birds, such as swallows and chickadees, and mammals. In the wild, large trees can provide cover for bears, raccoons, skunks. Deer will also consume small saplings and seedlings.

Note: Thujaplicin is the chemical substance that serves as a natural fungicide. Thujaplicin is only found in older trees and will persist in dead wood for years. Some woodworkers and loggers become sensitive and allergic to cedar. Adverse reactions to red cedar dust include asthma, reduction of lung function, and eye irritations.

–USDA NRCS Plant Guide, Western Red Cedar (
–SFGate, “Disadvantages of Wester Redcedar“ (
–Wikipedia, Thuja plicata (
–Main Cabin Masters (

Myrtlewood tree (Umbellularia californica)

The Myrtlewood Tree is a very special broadleaf hardwood which is also an evergreen species.  This is not to be confused with the Pacific Myrtle shrub which also grows along the coast.

The Myrtlewood tree grows to heights of 60 to 120 feet, growing at a slow pace of 1- to 12-inches during each of its first few years of life.   At this pace, the Myrtlewood tree may take from 80 to 120 years to reach its full size.


The range of Myrtlewood tree, also known as the California-laurel, extends from Reedsport, Oregon to San Diego, California within 160 miles of the Pacific Ocean. 

Myrtlewood comes in a wide variety of colors and is well-known for being one of the world’s most beautiful woods. The colors that appear are often a result of the minerals in the soil where it grows.


Making furniture, home decor and other gifts out of the Myrtlewood tree became popular in the early 1900s and has continued ever since. Woodworkers in Oregon love working with the wood because of the beauty and many types of finishes it provides.

In addition to being appreciated by humans, Myrtlewood provides food and cover for various animals. Its seeds are an important food source for squirrels, woodrats, mice, and birds. Deer browse young shoots during the summer.

Good as gold

There is a very interesting story about Myrtlewood back in 1933. “The Oregon town where money grows on trees and wood is as good as cash” describes how the wood was used as money on the Oregon coast. See for more details.

When visiting the southern coast of Oregon be sure to stop in one of the “Myrtlewood Factories” that sell Myrtlewood products. Some even give tours of wood working operations.

Take the opportunity to experience walking through Myrtlewood trees yourself at forest trails and roadside parks near the southern Oregon coast.