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Heracleum maximum (Common cowparsnip)
Muller, Thomas L.

Heracleum maximum

Heracleum maximum W. Bartram

Common Cowparsnip, Cow Parsnip

Apiaceae (Carrot Family)

Synonym(s): Heracleum lanatum, Heracleum sphondylium ssp. montanum, Heracleum sphondylium var. lanatum

USDA Symbol: HEMA80

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

This very tall plant has huge leaves and flat umbels of numerous tiny white flowers; stem is grooved, woolly, hollow, and stout.

This is the largest species of the carrot family in North America. The genus is named for Hercules, who is reputed to have used these plants for medicine. Early in each year, Native Americans peeled and ate the young sweet, aromatic leaf and flower stalks.


From the Image Gallery

31 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Fruit Type: Schizocarp
Leaf: Green

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep


USA: AK , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DE , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY
Canada: AB , BC , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE
Native Distribution: Most of North America from southern California to Georgia northward.
Native Habitat: Moist, partially shaded places, up to 9,000' (2,700 m) elevation.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Organic, Clay, Loam, Sandy


Use Wildlife: Birds.
Use Other: Indigenous people in the Northwest used the hollow stems to make deer calls.
Warning: People with sensitive skin often develop rashes when contact with cow-parsnip is followed by exposure to bright sunlight. It is best to gather this robust plant with gloves. (Kershaw). For food and medicinal uses do not confuse with water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) which is poisonous. (Clough)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Anise swallowtail butterfly.

Value to Beneficial Insects

Supports Conservation Biological Control

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Anise Swallowtail
(Papilio zelicaon)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR


Bibref 1364 - Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies (2004) Kershaw, L. (Author), Craig, L. and McCloskey, E. ...
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Heracleum maximum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Heracleum maximum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Heracleum maximum


Record Modified: 2019-03-06
Research By: TWC Staff

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