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.
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: