The Giant Hogweed and the Triffids
The arrival of high Summer means the end for this year of the Giant Hogweed that has made such a strong appearance along the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. These alien looking plants, which can reach up to two metres in height, normally start appearing in late April and properly come into their own during May and June. After this, they turn skeletal and collapse only to return to life the following Spring.
According to Wikipedia, the Hogweed was originally native to the Caucasus Region and Central Asia. It has since successfully established itself in different parts of the world, usually near canals or rivers. In Britain it was first imported as an ornamental curiosity. It’s considered to be a ‘toxic weed’. If the sap comes into contact with bare skin it can cause blisters and scars. Contact with the eyes can lead to blindness. Wherever it establishes itself, the Hogweed is a dominant and very noticeable oddity.
In other words, the Giant Hogweed are Triffids. No wonder I love them.
The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham’s iconic novel about deadly plants usurping mankind was one of the first ‘adult’ books that I read in my teens. Even before that, the 1980’s TV adaption made a big impression on me as a child: All those empty streets, the wandering, blind victims of the supposed comet and the Triffids with their tick-tick-tick sound lurching out of their farms to harvest humanity. It was my first taste of post-apocalyptic fiction and the idea of what it would be like to live in a world changed beyond recognition. Wonderful stuff for a child’s imagination.
Anyone who’s read the book knows that the Triffids aren’t the real villains of the piece. They’re the product of human greed and they just happen to be in the right place to take advantage of the after effects of humanity’s mistakes.
So maybe that’s part of the reason I like the Giant Hogweed so much. They make me think of change and of adaption. We brought them here and they’re just doing the best they can. They’re aliens and though they might be toxic, they make things more interesting.
As a monument to their particularly fine showing this year, I created the cover for an imagined 50’s novel, The Day of the Giant Hogweed, that would tell their story in a Wyndham-esque style. Strange plants introduced to a new place on a whim and making it their own. As with the Triffids at the end of their book, the story of the Giant Hogweed isn’t over yet.
I’m glad they are around.