Borshevik, aka Giant Hogweed, aka Cow Parsnip, aka Heracleum Sosnovsky, can grow up to four metres tall — and if it looks strangely out of place in a Russian ecosystem, then that’s because it is. Indigenous to the Caucasus region, borshevik was introduced to Russia in the hungry post-war years as a means to feed cattle, with its lush foliage and aggressive growth. But this Soviet attempt to outsmart nature, like scores of similar interventions, went radically wrong. Left unchecked, the tenacious invader now covers hundreds of thousands of hectares in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Baltics, crowding out all other plants and turning roadsides, fields, and riverbanks into borshevik deserts. While primarily a rural problem, borshevik has crept even into the heart of Moscow and St Petersburg.
Critically, borshevik is also poisonous. The juice of the plant contains photo-toxic chemicals, which react to the sun and can cause third-degree burns. Removing borshevik usually features people in full hazmat suits, giving the process an air of nuclear Armageddon. Unsuspecting Instagrammers hoping to pose with gigantic flowers can come away seriously injured. It is no surprise that borshevik bears the nickname “Stalin’s Revenge.”