Monday, September 02, 2013

Hog's Fennel (Peucedanum officinale)

Pictures from Tankerton (just to the E. of Whitstable harbour in N. Kent), taken on August 31, 2013 - too late to see the bright yellow flowers, at least on this particular plant.
Hog's-Fennel (Peucedanum officinale) is exclusively coastal in the UK, though not in Europe. It is restricted to the Essex and N. Kent coasts. (Formerly it also grew near Shoreham in W. Sussex.)

In fact some people call it "Sea Hog's Fennel", a pointless clarification unless you call Milk-parsley by its alternative name "Marsh Hog's Fennel", which nobody these days ever does. (Milk-parsley was classified as Peucedanum palustre until very recently, but has now been renamed Thyselium palustre, molecular analysis having confirmed the motley nature of the three species once lumped together in PeucedanumC.A. Stace, Watsonia 28: 103–122 (2010).)

Though Hog's Fennel is a very local plant,  you can hardly miss it if you visit Tankerton because it grows all along the sea-front, dominating the rough slope that separates the promenade from the beach.

Umbel, the rays typically crowded, with young fruits developing. 

A tangle of leaves. 

Stem - smooth, hairless, with attractive striping. 

The name "Hog's Fennel" is reasonably old and is also used in France and Germany. Culpeper says: "Called also sow-fennel, hoar-strange, hoar-strong, sulphur-wort, and brimstone-wort."

The last two names refer to the smell of the root which exudes a yellow sap when cut. The roots, seeds etc  are said to have been used medicinally.

"Hoar-strange" etc is Low German "Harstrang" which apparently means hog's tail, possibly referring to the twisty leaves. This might be where the "Hog" came from originally. Alternatively, "Hog's Fennel" might be just a way of saying "worthless fennel", i.e. you can't eat it (compare "Cow-parsley").

These seeds confused me. They are the ripe fruits of Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), but I wrongly supposed they must be fruits of Hog's Fennel on a weather-beaten kex left over from the previous year.  When I got home, I consulted my books and began to realize something was wrong.  My only excuse for the misidentification is that apart from these old kex's (which are not really very old, they're from the spring), there is not much visible sign of Alexanders in late August.  But when I revisited in November it was immediately obvious that Alexanders (its fresh green leaves now carpeting the ground) was growing all along this bank, mixed up with the Hog's Fennel.

Smyrnium olusatrum (Alexanders) in November

Peucedanum officinale (Hog's Fennel) in November

Silene latifolia (White Campion), Tankerton, November

Unexpected plaque on a beach-hut, Tankerton

Forgotten photo from May 2013: Unfolding leaves of Hog's Fennel in the foreground, Alexanders flowering in the background.

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