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

I remember the first time I saw a carnivorous California Pitcher Plant (at the Darlingtonia Wayside near Florence). The grove of odd-shaped plants looked like something from outer space.

Darlingtonia californica (Oregon State Parks)

Looking at this tall (up to about 40-inches), upright, tube-shaped plant, one might think it was alien. Researcher Dr. Dawn Cardace has been investigating ancient subduction areas of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. She is looking for potential applications for life on other planets (see 

A link to the unknown is easy to imagine when a bug flies in and never comes out.

Plants that grow in bogs have adapted different survival strategies and the California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia Californica) is no exception. For starters, the plant is fairly rare and grows in wetland areas where the pH is around 8 (most of our Pacific Northwest soils are on the acid side closer to 4-5). This pH level is common around serpentine soils.

The seeps of cold, running water helps moderate the plant’s root temperature. The roots are very sensitive to temperature changes, more so than the leaves.

Even so, it is the roots that give the plant the ability to quickly resprout even after a major fire. This ability has not gone unnoticed or researched. For more information see “Vegetation Recovery in the Biscuit Fire, Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon” at The 2002 Biscuit Fire burned nearly 500,000 acres and is considered to be the largest fire in Oregon in the past century.

Trapped Inside

Most North American pitcher plants have slippery walls and downward-pointing hairs in their tubular leaves that help prevent prey from escaping. The Darlingtonia californica has an ingenious tiny, hidden exit and multiple translucent false exits making it even better at capturing and retaining its prey. The cells inside the tube can absorb nutrients like roots do which helps supplement the plant’s nitrogen requirements.

Foreground is a wild orchid (Cypripedium californicum) with grove of Darlingtonia in background (royalty free image Unsplash Moore)

But there is more to this story. A few fun facts about carnivorous plants:
–They grow predominantly in wetlands on every continent except for Antarctica.
–The U.S. has the largest variety of the over 700 species.
–Many wild carnivorous plants have gone extinct since the arrivals of Europeans. It is estimated that only five percent of the wild carnivorous plants remain.
–Charles Darwin, one of the first carnivorous plant enthusiasts, spent 20 years researching and writing his book “Insectivorous Plants.”

See to believe

There are several locations where you can see the California Pitcher Plant including the:
Darlingtonia Preserve located just off Highway 101, north of Florence, Oregon. This 18-acre preserve/State Park is centered on a peat bog. It is the only Oregon State Park dedicated to the protection of a single plant species (
Darlingtonia Trail, Smith River National Recreation Area (north and east of Crescent City near the Oregon/California border) see
Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Area, Wild and Scenic Illinois River Corridor managed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Medford District Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Eight Dollar Mountain is one of the most significant botanical sites in Oregon. Many large Darlingtonia swamps exist at the base of the conical-shaped mountain. See

Cattails can be found just about anywhere there is a bit of damp muddy soil. The Common Cattail, Typha latifolia, can be found across the entire temperate northern hemisphere in a variety of wetland habitats.

A legendary resource

Is the Common Cattail a friend of mankind? What makes this tall marshy plant, with graceful dark green lance-shaped leaves, and a weird fruiting stalk (that looks like a hotdog skewered length-wise) a hero?

Yes! The lowly cattail has repeatedly earned legendary status in history as a:

  • Food source (from rhizomes to seed). Records show cattails being used as a food source in Europe over 30,000 years ago.
  • Medicines (for cuts, burns, stings, and bruises plus internal issues) and medical supplies (like bandages) and bug repellant
  • Building and thermal insulation materials (for furniture, rafts, and houses)
  • Water cleaner (known to remove arsenic, lead, and pesticides from water)
  • Household needs (like mats, blankets, paper, diapers, bedding, fire wicks, water resistant bags and clothing)

Cattails came to the rescue in World War II. Cattail seed fluff replaced the buoyant filler material used in life vests and aviation jackets called Kapok. Tests confirmed that buoyancy was effective after 100 hours of submersion.

Uses Today

  • Decorative paper fibers
  • Clothing textiles
  • Biofuel and in the production of ethanol
  • Floral design and creative arts
  • Pickles

Pickles? Cattail pickles, sound fun. Get a recipe from the Northwest Forager at

The brown bloom stock disintegrates into a loose fluffy blob of seeds that are disbursed by the wind.

Note: Cattail rhizomes can form thick underwater mats and control may be difficult. Do not confuse Cattails with the lookalike plant Iris pseudacorus, or Yellow Flag Iris. Iris rhizomes are an aquatic invasive plant in many areas. They form a very thick mat, interfere with water systems, and have a pretty yellow bloom.