Know your native plants: Queen Anne’s Lace or wild carrot
It is hard to miss the abundance of flowering Queen Anne’s Laces in Northeast Texas at this time of the year. If for some reason you have not notice yet, pay attention in the south side of Sulphur Springs (Highway 154 south and highway 11) and you might notice road ditches covered with it. According to the University of Arkansas –Extension horticulturist (retired) Gerlad Klingaman, Queen Anne’s Lace is one of our most common roadside wildflowers or weeds, depending on your perspective. Mr. Klingaman admired the delicate, lacy character of the white flower in early summer, but to him it’s not a weed. Not everyone agrees. As I mowed my lawn at home, I have left part of my front property currently covered with Queen Anne’s Lace untouched to observe the diversity of pollinators visiting the patch. I am curious to find out how long until my neighbors start to wonder why the patch was left not mowed!. Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), a member of the parsnip family, is the wild progenitor of the cultivated carrot. It’s native across much of southern Europe and central Asia but has spread throughout all regions of the United States and Canada. It’s most at home along roadways that are periodically mown to keep down really tall vegetation, but it’s never a serious lawn weed because it can’t tolerate close mowing. In our climate, Queen Anne’s lace behaves as a winter annual with seeds germinating in the fall. The slender, white, branched taproots forms lacy leaves reminiscent of the cultivated carrot. Though the taproot is as woody as a tree limb, it gives off the distinctive carrot smell when crushed. The summer plants send up 3 feet tall, branched, hairy stems bearing flowers and lacy leaves. The terminal flower cluster (an umbel) is the largest and may reach 4 to 5 inches across. Side branches form freely, but the umbels are usually half as large. The umbels are made up of hundreds of tiny white blossoms, except for one central floret that’s a deep purple. Speculation has it that this tiny purple floret in the lacelike array of white flowers may have been an example of floral mimickery. It probably looked like the alluring end of a female bug, inviting amorous males in for a visit, only to do pollination work instead. When the seeds mature, the umbel curls inward and forms a nest-like collection of bristle-armed seeds that cause them to stick easily to passing pets or pant legs. As the seeds begin ripening, the plant dies. The widespread occurrence of Queen Anne’s lace is probably due to reversion of the cultivated type to wild forms. The first cultivated carrots were from Afghanistan, but they were either white or purple. The purple color came from anthocyanin pigments, the same pigment found in beets. The stubby, yellow and then orange anthocyanin-free carrots we know today appeared as mutants in the 16th century. Apparently, there was not an organized environmental movement at the time, because the frankenfood label didn’t appear until genetically engineered crops arrived in the 1990s. A French seedman, Henri Vilmorin, demonstrated in the 1840s that in three simple crosses using wild plants it was possible recreate the carrot grown in the garden. So, it seems likely that the reverse happened when a few cultivated plants were allowed to go to seed without supervision. Reversion occurred, and Queen Anne’s lace filled the waste places of the world. Carrot breeders must carefully inspect all of their seed production fields, because the presence of a single wild plant can ruin an entire seed field. For more information on this or any other agricultural topics please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at [email protected].