They’ve tried with foxes, they’ve tried with false widow spiders, they even tried to get Steve Backshall to be mean about Jellyfish – but now, a ‘certain brand of newspaper’1 is finally getting some traction with Giant Hogweed. Yes, it’s summer scare season and the papers are here to remind you that you should all fear nature!
Thing is, Giant Hogweed really is rather unpleasant, it really should be removed wherever it is encountered in this country and it really can cause some quite serious harm through something called phytophotodermatitis (I’m sorry, my biochem days are long, long behind me so I can’t quite bring myself to go through the physiology here, but my basic latin suggests this is something to do with ‘Plant-Light-Skin’??). There is, admittedly, something rather triffid-esque about them, looming over you out of the undergrowth. They can even cause blindness if they get at your eyes2. So maybe they’ve got this one right for once, maybe we should start barricading the doors and constructing makeshift weapons out of broken-up pieces of furniture and kitchen utensils. Well, no. Obviously not.
Now I’m someone who has often stated that having a healthy fear of the natural world is no bad thing, but clearly education, not overzealous use of a flamethrower, is the key to winning this war against our potential vegetative overlords. The Mail has, predictably, gone all apocalyptic on the subject and are advocating liberal application of Glyphosate (despite only recently warning against it themselves and with the Soil Association also coming out against spraying the stuff around willy-nilly).
They are compared, superficially at least, to Cow Parsley, and though any botanist worth his salt will of course scoff at this, there is some resemblance. That is before it makes a race for the sky and begins to tower over you. This is all predicated on the notion that most people can actually identify Cow Parsley in the first place; something that I would wager is perhaps not as universal outside of rural areas as most journos assume. Round and round again, this comes back for to the need for wildlife education and the importance of our natural vocabulary, so at least our small people are able to name the thing that’s just attacked them.
It’s not as if they are a new phenomenon. Inevitably it was those damn Victorians again with their penchant for plucking peculiar-looking plants on their itinerant floral tour of the Empire. Someone probably thought it would add much needed height to their borders. They’ve been here long enough and are prevalent enough for people to know better by now, so at the very least I can hold up these articles and say to any doubting teenager ‘See? See? Environmental education is important after all.’
1Incidentally, is the sidebar on the daily mail website the most repellently vapid thing on the internet?
2Hang on, that wasn’t the Triffids though, was it? That was meteors or something…note to self – re-read Day of the Triffids, it’s excellent.