Flora Pittsburghensis

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Daucus carota

The ancestor of our common carrots and parsley, this European import is everywhere. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. The tiny off-white flowers are carried in dense flat clusters (“compound umbels,” to use botanical language, meaning that the whole cluster is an umbel made up of umbels). You can often find a single tiny purple floret in the center of the cluster. Later, the umbels close up into a seed cluster that strongly resembles a bird’s nest.

Daucus carota seedhead

A rare but exceptionally beautiful purple form is sometimes encountered.

Although the root is edible, the plant is easily confused with poisonous members of the same family, especially the notorious Poison Hemlock that killed Socrates.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

DAUCUS [Tourn.] L. CARROT. Fruit oblong, flattened dorsally; stylopodium depressed; carpel with 5 slender bristly primary ribs and 4 winged secondary ones, each of the latter bearing a single row of barbed prickles; oil-tubes solitary under the secondary ribs, two on the commissural side. Bristly annuals or biennials, with pinnately decompound leaves, foliaceous and cleft involucral bracts, and compound umbels which become strongly concave. (The ancient Greek name.)

D. carota L. Biennial; stem bristly; ultimate leaf-segments lanceolate and cuspidate; rays numerous. Fields and waste place ; a pernicious weed. The flowers vary from white to roseate or pale yellow, the central one in each umbel usually dark purple. (Nat. from Eu.)

Mrs. Dana (in How to Know the Wild Flowers) gives us a diffuse and engaging description of this common weed:


Daucus Carota. Parsley Family.

Stems.—Tall and slender. Leaves.—Finely dissected. Flowers.— White; in a compound umbel, forming a circular flat-topped cluster.

When the delicate flowers of the wild carrot are still unsoiled by the dust from the highway, and fresh from the early summer rains, they are very beautiful, adding much to the appearance of the roadsides and fields along which they grow so abundantly as to strike despair into the heart of the farmer, for this is, perhaps, the “peskiest” of all the weeds with which he has to contend. As time goes on the blossoms begin to have a careworn look and lose something of the cobwebby aspect which won them the title of Queen Anne’s lace. In late summer the flower-stalks erect themselves, forming a concave cluster which has the appearance of a bird’s nest. I have read that a species of bee makes use of this ready-made home, but have never seen any indications of such an occupancy.

This is believed to be the stock from which the garden carrot was raised. The vegetable was well known to the ancients, and we learn from Pliny that the finest specimens were brought to Rome from Candia. When it was first introduced into Great Britain is not known, although the supposition is that it was brought over by the Dutch during the reign of Elizabeth. In the writings of Parkinson we read that the ladies wore carrot-leaves in their hair in place of feathers. One can picture the dejected appearance of a ball-room belle at the close of an entertainment.

Family: Umbelliferae or Apiaceae | Index of Families