Cow Parsley (All About)
This flower turns the roadside verges white during May and early June. It is a member of the Umbelliferae family, which means that the flowers are carried on flower heads that resemble small umbrellas. Each individual flower is very small. It has five tiny petals — the whole flower is only 2 mm across. They are carried in clusters 6 cm across at the ends of the large umbrella-shaped rays of the plant which itself can be up to a metre tall. The stems are furrowed and hollow. The leaves are finely divided and appear before the flowers. At this early stage it is quite possible to mistake them for ferns but of course they have no spores on the backs of the leaves as ferns doRead moreRead less
They are called cow parsley because of their finely divided leaves, but in Co. Tipperary they are known by the old name of “Queen Anne’s lace” because of the exquisiteness of the flower heads. The plant emits a spicy odour when crushed. It is attractive to insects as it contains nectar and if the flower heads are examined, flies can be seen sipping the nectar. The flowers die back in July but the long withered hollow stalks can remain all winter.
If examined and opened at this time you may find that they are providing hibernation quarters for earwigs or other insect larvae. They contribute greatly to the wildlife biodiversity of the hedge verge. Unbellifers — the family group to which cow parsley belongs — are a large group which contain poisonous members such as hemlock (which is fatal if eaten). The cow parsley was confused with this fatal plant or perhaps it was considered wise to give all such shaped plants a wide berth, because it was said that picking cow parsley and bringing it into the house would cause the death of one’s mother. That would discourage such a practice right enough.
Things to do
1. Make sure that the class is brought out on a fieldtrip to a hedge during May and early June when this plant is in flower. Pupils should become familiar with its flowers and leaves so that they do not mix it up with other flowers of the same family. The flower heads should be examined for insects and pooters used to collect any that might be sitting on them.