The Curse of the Giant Hogweed
The Curse of the Giant Hogweed
"FOR GOD'S SAKE, PETE, is that old coot still blethering?"
Professor Timothy Ames was sorry he'd bothered to wake up. He was also sorry he'd fallen asleep. These green fiber glass chairs were hell on an old man's skinny backside. What the Christ were they here for, anyway? He hated being lectured at. He wasn't used to assembly rooms carved willy-nilly out of erstwhile stately homes. He wished he were back at Balaclava Agricultural College in the hinterlands of Massachusetts, U.S.A., checking the boron in the beet fields.
His companion, the if possible even more distinguished Professor Peter Shandy, wished Tim would quit turning off his hearing aid. When it wasn't operating, Tim never knew whether he was mouthing words without letting any sound come out, or bellowing like a bull in rut. This time, Tim had bellowed. Peter could only be thankful they were at a British university, where it seemed not the done thing to notice eccentric behavior in elderly academics.
Perhaps the speaker had his own hearing aid turned off. Despite Tim's outcry and the few muttered "Hear, hears" that had followed it, Peter couldn't see that Professor Pfylltrydd was showing any sign of shutting up. So far Pfylltrydd had said nothing about the giant hogweed, or Heracleum mantegazzianum, that the overseas visitors didn't already know.
Naturally Tim and Peter had done their research before they'd agreed to come here and lend their expertise toward eradicating the oversized pest. They'd heard how this gargantuan relative of the cow parsley and the water hemlock was taking over the riverbanks and hedgerows. Smaller plants that couldn't grow in its noxious shade were threatened with extinction. Bird watchers were being carted off to the hospitals with severe cases of whiplash from craning their necks to hurl anathemas up its fifteen-foot stalks. Courting couples were getting contact dermatitis in embarrassing places from brushing against its venomous bristles. Nudist camps were all but wiped out.
Fishermen were succumbing to apoplexy in droves. The accursed weed grew so thick around the streams that they couldn't indulge in their piscatorial pursuits without importing machetes or sharpening up their ancestral broadaxes to hack their way to the water. And the dingy white flower heads were alleged to produce five thousand seeds apiece.
Peter Shandy intended to count a few headfuls of seeds. He was curious to know whether five thousand was a true figure or merely one plucked from the air by some sensation-mongering journalist. The chances were it was fairly close to the mark, though: Mother Nature was apt to err on the side of prodigality.
When it came to wordiness, Professor Pfylltrydd was also a child of nature, that was plain. He was talking about the excellent work already done by hogweed experts on this side of the water. They'd thought for a time they had the hogweed hogtied, but all of a sudden, the weeds had begun to spring new-bristled, taller, ranker, smellier, and more pestiferous than ever before. They'd spread almost overnight to places where no hogweed had previously infiltrated.
This meeting was being held in one such place, among the lush green hills where England blends so delightfully into Wales and the sheep all begin bleating in Cymric as soon as you cross the border. Peter thought he could hear sheep bleating now. Or was that still the old goat maundering on about the hogweed?
Tim was asleep again. Peter was feeling his jet lag. When this ordeal by windbag was over, would his hosts offer him and his companions yet more cups of milky tea, or free them to go somewhere and sink their nozzles into pints of the magnificent local bitter? Peter thought wistfully of the pub in which his wife Helen and her dear friend Iduna Stott were no doubt resting their weary feet and wetting their dainty whistles after an arduous round of the sights and the sho