Description from Flora of China
Sphondylium Miller; Tetrataenium (de Candolle) Mandenova.
Herbs, perennial, rarely biennial. Root fusiform or cylindrical, thickened, rarely fibrous. Stem erect, terete and often ribbed or striate, branching. Basal and lower leaves petiolate; petiole sheaths usually conspicuously broad; blade ternately or pinnately compound, hairy or glabrous. Umbels loose compound, terminal and lateral, terminal umbel with bisexual flowers, the lateral often with only staminate flowers; bracts few or absent, often caducous; rays numerous, spreading-ascending; bracteoles several, linear or lanceolate, entire; umbellules many-flowered. Calyx teeth triangular, lanceolate or obsolete. Petals white, rarely pinkish or pale yellow, obovate or obcordate, base cuneate, apex notched with a narrowly incurved lobule; outer flowers of the umbel often radiant with outer petals enlarged, broadly obovate, apex deeply 2-lobed. Stylopodium conic; styles short, erect or reflexed. Fruit obovoid, ovoid, broadly ovoid or suborbicular, strongly dorsally compressed, hairy or glabrous; dorsal and intermediate ribs filiform, sometimes raised, lateral ribs usually winged; vittae 1(–2) in each furrow, 2(–6) or absent on commissure, narrow, reaching to base of mericarp or clavate and much shorter than mericarp. Seed face plane, rarely slightly concave. Carpophore parted to base, usually persistent.
This is a widespread, taxonomically complex genus with the Hengduan Mountains forming one of two centers of diversity. Generic delimitation is problematic, both within Heracleum (recent molecular studies have shown it not to be monophyletic) and with several other genera with dorsally compressed fruit (e.g., Angelica, Peucedanum, and Semenovia). The distinctly clavate vittae, shorter than the length of the mericarp, are characteristic of many Heracleum species, but this does not hold for some of the Chinese species. Problems are compounded by the general paucity of good herbarium specimens and the inadequacy of historic type material. Many species are robust and tall plants, in which the primary inflorescences and basal leaves are large and therefore difficult to accommodate in a specimen press. Unfortunately, collectors have tended to select the smaller, lateral branches and upper leaves, which are less informative. Good fruiting material is also often lacking, and some taxa are recorded only from a very few collections. Revised classifications have been proposed for parts of the range of the genus, but as present knowledge is incomplete for Chinese taxa a traditional treatment is followed here.
Many species have reputed medicinal uses, and some are important elements in traditional Chinese medicine.
The following taxa have been described or reported from Chinese material, but are imperfectly known by the present authors because no specimens have been seen or the specimens are inadequate.
Heracleum canescens Lindley (in Royle, Ill. Bot. Himal. Mts. 232. 1839), described from NW India (“Mussooree,” J. F. Royle s.n., lectotype, K), has been doubtfully reported from Xizang and NW Yunnan. All Chinese specimens allegedly of this W Himalayan (NW India, Pakistan) species seen by us were inadequate for accurate determination.
Heracleum kansuense Diels (Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 2: 66. 1906), described from Ningxia (“Gansu: Hsi ning fu” [Xiningpu]), W. Filchner 21, holotype, P).
Heracleum likiangense H. Wolff (Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 33: 78. 1933), described from Yunnan (Lijiang, 13500 ft, J. F. C. Rock 4957, holotype, unlocalized).
Heracleum moellendorffii var. sageniifolium K. T. Fu (Fl. Tsinling. 1(3): 464. 1981 [“sagenifolium”]), described from Gansu and Shaanxi (K. T. Fu 17238, holotype, WNU).
Heracleum schansianum Fedde ex H. Wolff (Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 33: 78. 1933), described from Shanxi (K. A. H. Smith 7632, holotype, GB).
About 70 species: mainly in Asia and Europe, one species in North America, a few species in E Africa; 29 species (21 endemic) in China.
(Authors: Pu Fading (溥发鼎 Pu Fa-ting); Mark F. Watson)