This is a fearsome plant. It’s rough, tough leaves are larger than my head: pointed and creased like thick green origami. Its stem is hollow and thick as a hose, and it can heft its dense umbel of flowers as much as seven feet in the air. I prefer the scientific name—Heracleum maximum—to the common name “cow parsnip”. That is far too pedestrian for this beast. Cows are placid, parsnips are passive underground things. This is a vigorous creature of light and growth. The implied size is appropriate, but that’s about all.
Right now it is out in abundance and it’s hard to hike (or drive) near the ocean without seeing it. It clusters along stream-banks and hangs over the curves on Highway One. There is nothing else that looks like this plant; it’s the only one of its genus around here. It has a vague similarity to its other cousins in the carrot family like Queen Anne’s lace or poison hemlock—but all the others have divided, lacy leaves whereas our bovine parsnip boasts solid, maple-like leaves as large as dinner platters.