Umbels of Umbels

I’m trying to compose a poem
with the words
cow and parsnip in it.

But as you can obviously see,
there is no good way
to spin it.

Therefore, forget the poem,
and I’ll return 
to my teaching mode.

And by the end of this road
I will have showed
what I knowed. 

Cow and parsnip may sound like a bland, or even ugly combination to you. And at first glance, from a distance, this plant may look gross; not worth your time.

However, it is my philosophy that one can find beauty, or at least something unique about every plant that grows, especially during close examination.

So I’m driving down a local gravel road, named after the local McPherson family, looking for something to look at. I spot a spotted cow in a pastoral pasture, and along a small creek, this giant parsnip! 

I stop to take a few shots, not at the cow, but of this purple-stemmed perennial. I look up, way up, to one of its many heads over my head. I am not small, but it can grow up to nine feet tall! That’s a lot in one Michigan growing season.

I am slightly more solid than this stout plant, and about as ugly. No, wait, I’m looking for beauty, or uniqueness. We’re going to have to look harder. Look closer.

Stay with me now, as we examine parts of the Cow Parsnip. The stalky stem is totally tubular, dude. 

And for you true plant lovers, here are some tasty bytes of Botany from my always dependable Michigan Wildflowers book, which I’ve been using for forty years. This book is not as old as me; published when I graduated from high school; © 1966, but facts are still facts. 

In the rare situation when someone asks you, What is a Cow Parsnip?” here is what you say:

“A very stout perennial up to 3 meters tall, the stems hairy, strongly ridged, up to 5-6 cm thick at the base. 

Flowers white, borne in very large, flattish umbels, composed of 15 – 35 smaller umbels; involucre  soon falling. Corolla irregular, largest on outer flowers; fruit broadly oval or obovate, flattened. 

Leaves 3-folioate, up to 6 dm long, the leaflets broadly ovate, circular, or heart-shaped, deeply lobed and sharply toothed.”

If you understand all these scientific terms, congratulations! You’re a Botanist or a Naturalist. If not, I hope your corolla remains regular, and your involucre doesn’t fall soon. 

Oh, before you desert me or my site, I need to show you this V.L.U.B. that I found just down the road a piece. 

This verylargeuglybird may be uglier than me, and the Cow Parsnip. That’s for you to decide…

Thanks for your patience with this difficult subject. Perhaps you learned something. Maybe I got your curiosity up. 

Aw, come on, before you go, take just one more look; closer this time…

There you go. We just found something unique. 

You are free to go now; to look at some of the more beautiful posts at:

… to heal the possible pain in your eyes, to restore gratitude for your vision. You could start with “Viewers’ Favorites”. After 230,000 page views, how could they be wrong? 

May I suggest:  Two Years @ WWFN 


If this article didn’t whet your appetite, perhaps this will:

The Indians used this species for medicine and food. The young stalks were roasted over hot coals. The leaf stalks were peeled and eaten raw like celery. The young roots when cooked taste like rutabaga. (does anything rhyme with rutabaga?)

Photo Locations:

All Cow Parsnips and the Turkey Vulture were shot in Vergennes Township, Kent County, Michigan.

The fork in the road was captured by my wife Mary; near Ramsey Canyon, (a famous birding spot) south of Sierra Vista, Arizona.


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