Deadly plant … it’s about time | Bee Wilson

The city council has finally acted to make sure its residents will not be exposed to potentially dangerous cow parsnip, which has been damaging pavements and pavements around housing estates. Most of the current…

Deadly plant ... it's about time | Bee Wilson

The city council has finally acted to make sure its residents will not be exposed to potentially dangerous cow parsnip, which has been damaging pavements and pavements around housing estates.

Most of the current cases of dangerous (but native) plants have happened during the mid-July mini-heatwave, when the city was hotter than any other in Europe. There were cases of nasty fountain grass, black mop-head, a frothy catwalk of Chinese lanterns and a periwinkle-like plant that covers pavements and homes with a blanket of water, causing damage to local assets and to neighbouring gardens.

Parsnip has been around for around 3,000 years, however, many city dwellers are unaware of its potential dangers. This has been due to the fact that it can live for up to 20 years underground in cracks in pavements, before it springs to life as plant food, pushing up the soil in favour of the roots of cow parsnip. Once it comes to life in mid-summer it sticks around until winter, when its roots weaken and it dies back.

A rising, scatty vegetation works to push up soil on pavements and windowsills. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The problem is that while it is not easy to kill off cow parsnip in a hurry, its root systems can be collapsed over by excavators that are working nearby. Leaked drainage pipes, poor mowing practice and possibly drinking water can also weaken roots.

It has, therefore, been up to the city council to take enforcement action, which the council has now begun to do. The council has carried out patrols around housing estates, treated the damage to the “black blotches” around schools and parks, and prescribed treatment to plants that are buried under pavement cracks.

This measures are welcome but inadequate to stop the likely occurrence of dangerous vegetation in the city. Cow parsnip needs to be removed from pavements within six months and its roots and roots need to be treated to avoid further damage.

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