Heracleum (plant)

Heracleum is a genus of biennial and perennial herbs in the carrot family Apiaceae. They are found throughout the temperate northern hemisphere and in high mountains as far south as Ethiopia. Common names for the genus or its species include hogweed[1] and cow parsnip.[2][3]

Heracleum sphondylium (Thomé Bd.3 1905, BHL-81509, Tafel 451) clean, no-description.png
Heracleum sphondylium
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Subfamily: Apioideae
Genus: Heracleum

The genus name Heracleum was described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.[3] It derives from the Ancient Greek Ἡράκλειος (Hērákleios) "of Heracles", referring to the mythological hero.


Many species of the genus Heracleum are similar in appearance.[4] An outlier is H. mantegazzianum, the large size of which is exceptional. Common species include:

As of July 2019, Plants of the World Online accepts the following 148 species:

Classification and namingEdit

Other than size, the related species H. mantegazzianum, H. sosnowskyi, and H. persicum have very similar characteristics. The common name giant hogweed usually refers to H. mantegazzianum alone but in some locales that common name refers to all three species as a group.[5][4] Both H. maximum and H. sphondylium are often referred to as cow parsnip. To avoid confusion, these species are sometimes referred to as American cow parsnip and European cow parsnip, respectively.[6][7]

The morphological similarity of species within the genus Heracleum and the difficulty of botanical identification has led to numerous synonyms and naming issues. For example, the classification of the species now widely known as H. maximum has been inconsistent. In the literature, the scientific names H. lanatum, H. maximum, and others are used interchangeably. Prior to 2000, the former name was most popular, but today the latter name is in vogue.

Phototoxic effectsEdit

Most species of the genus Heracleum are known to cause phytophotodermatitis.[8] In particular, the public health risks of giant hogweed (H. mantegazzianum) are well known.[9][10][11]

At least 36 species of the genus Heracleum have been reported to contain furanocoumarin,[12] a chemical compound that sensitizes human skin to sunlight.[citation needed] Of those, at least 25 species contained a psoralen derivative, either bergapten (5-methoxypsoralen) or methoxsalen (8-methoxypsoralen). Three of those species (H. mantegazzianum, H. sosnowskyi, and H. sphondylium) were found to contain both psoralen derivatives.


  1. ^ hogweed at Oxford Online Dictionaries
  2. ^ Bailey, L.H.; Bailey, E.Z.; the staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium (1976). Hortus third: A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-02-505470-7.
  3. ^ a b "Heracleum L." Tropicos.org. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 11 Oct 2011.
  4. ^ a b MacDonald, Francine; Anderson, Hayley (May 2012). "Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum): Best Management Practices in Ontario" (PDF). Ontario Invasive Plant Council, Peterborough, ON. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
  5. ^ Booy, Olaf; Cock, Matthew; Eckstein, Lutz; Hansen, Steen Ole; Hattendorf, Jan; Hüls, Jörg; Jahodová, Sárka; Krinke, Lucás; Marovoková, Lanka; Müllerová, Jana; Nentwig, Wolfgang; Nielsen, Charlotte; Otte, Annette; Pergl, Jan; Perglová, Irena; Priekule, Ilze; Pusek, Petr; Ravn, Hans Peter; Thiele, Jan; Trybush, Sviatlana; Wittenberg, Rüdiger (2005). The giant hogweed best practice manual: guidelines for the management and control of invasive weeds in Europe (PDF). Hørsholm: Center for Skov, Landskab og Planlægning/Københavns Universitet. ISBN 87-7903-209-5. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
  6. ^ "Heracleum sphondylium common names". EOL. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  7. ^ "German-English Dictionary: cow parsnip". dict.cc. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  8. ^ McGovern, Thomas W; Barkley, Theodore M. "Botanical Dermatology". The Electronic Textbook of Dermatology. Internet Dermatology Society. Section Phytophotodermatitis. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Gander, Kashmira (June 18, 2018). "Giant Hogweed Warning: Plant That Can Cause Blindness, Burn Skin, Spreads Into New State". Newsweek. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  10. ^ Patocka, Jiri; Cupalova, Klara (2017). "Giant Hogweed And Photodermatitis" (PDF). Military Medical Science Letters. 86 (3): 135–138. doi:10.31482/mmsl.2017.021. ISSN 0372-7025.
  11. ^ Camm, E; Buck, HW; Mitchell, JC (1976). "Phytophotodermatitis from Heracleum mantegazzianum". Contact Dermatitis. 2 (2): 68–72. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.1976.tb02987.x.
  12. ^ Mitchell, John; Rook, Arthur (1979). Botanical Dermatology: Plants and Plant Products Injurious to the Skin. Vancouver: Greengrass. pp. 692–699.