Cow Parsley Fever

It’s an enormously exciting time to be in Britain.

No, I’m not talking about the general election campaign. It’s cow parsley season! Beautiful, delicate sprays of cow parsley flowers are opening across the countryside, in any suitable patch of rough vegetation lucky enough to be un-tidied, un-sprayed, and un-crowded by other plants. No less an authority than Richard Mabey, writing in his landmark work Flora Britannica, describes cow parsley as ‘arguably the most important spring landscape flower’. It certainly vies with hawthorn as the crowning glory of the month of May.

Of course, I’m particularly biased towards cow parsley after two years spent researching the community of beetles which use it as a nectar resource (alongside its brasher, stinkier, later blooming cousin hogweed), focusing on the potential suitability of umbellifer patches as sampling platforms. I can’t really tell you much about my results yet – I still have many specimens to identify before I even have a complete data set to analyse! – but I’m looking forward to seeing what patterns emerge after many hours spent staring at flower-heads, collecting pot in one hand and click-counter in the other. Preliminary information is available on this conference poster from last year.

This year, I’m moving on to other fieldwork, but I have a feeling I’m not done with umbellifers. I continue to feel their magnetic pull: after all what’s not to like about plants which look great, grow all over the place, and attract a remarkable variety of insects? Spend a relaxing half hour this spring gazing at the cow parsley, and you never know what you might find.

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