If you took a walk on Peak Hill recently you will have seen many tall, dry stems topped with clusters of dry black fruits. This is Alexanders, a seaside specialist in the Parsley family, the Apiaceae. Its presence can be a boon and a curse.

Alexanders, or the Parsley of Alexandria, was probably introduced by the Romans as a pot herb. All parts, the leaves, stems and roots, can be eaten. It was grown in cottage gardens until the 18th century when it was replaced by new cultivated varieties of Celery. If you are tempted to try it, make sure you have the right plant because some members of the Apiaceae such as Hemlock Water-dropwort and Fool’s Parsley are poisonous.

The flowers are rich in aromatic oils rather than nectar and a great favourite with many flying insects. Some of the chemicals in the flower are showing signs of pharmacological use including fighting colon cancer.

It is an edible vegetable and herb, it is a good early year source of food for insects, so why is it a curse? Like many introduced plants, Alexanders has a habit of taking over. Although some insects have learned to feed from the flowers, other invertebrates, such as the caterpillars and slugs, haven’t yet learned that it is edible and don’t keep it check. It is not in the league of Japanese Knotweed nor Himalayan Balsam, but it is swamping many of the native wild flowers on Peak Hill which is bad news for the native wildlife.

If it is to be kept under control, it needs to be cut before it sets seed, but that means cutting in May and June. There is much debate about mowing regimes, but Peak Hill is ideal for the EDDC Improving Green Spaces for Wildlife regime, or it would be if it wasn’t dominated by the Alexanders. Leaving mowing to the end of summer just spreads the masses of black seeds.

If the native wild flowers and all the native animals that rely on them are to thrive on Peak Hill, there needs to be a programme of hand cutting and collecting the Alexanders seed heads before they ripen. EDDC does not have the resources for that, perhaps next May we can find some volunteers to have a go.