Flora Friday: Wild One

Thanks to the contributions of two energetic people who know plants, chavezpark.org is publishing a complete botanical inventory of the park. Jutta Burger PhD is Lead Scientist for the California Invasive Plant Council, and Bob Huttar is a certified arborist and a consulting field biologist specializing in botany generally and rare plants in particular. Together they are photographing and identifying everything that grows in the park, both common and scientific names. They’ve done the scientific heavy lifting. I’m adding some background blog-talk. We’re publishing the results in a series, with a new installment every Friday.

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

The Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) is the great-grandmother of the edible carrots we know from our markets, and if planted within half a mile of cultivated carrots, they will cross-pollinate, producing hybrids. The wild plant’s roots, leaves and flowers are edible when young, before the plant gets tough and woody. But beware. This carrot very closely resembles the Poison Hemlock, which also grows in the park, as a regular reader of Flora Friday will already know. It has an unusual way of spreading its seed. The flower head, when filled with seed, will dry and fall off. On the ground it becomes a tumbleweed that rolls with the wind and drops its seeds as it goes. The seeds have little hooks that will attach to animal fur or people’s clothes. This wild one has several other interesting qualities.

  • As a cut flower, it will change color depending on the color of the water in the vase, similar to what carnations do.
  • In photosensitive persons, a wet leaf held against the skin and exposed to sun will create an image of itself.
  • Extracts of the plant have been used in traditional medicine for centuries as a contraceptive and abortifacient.
  • When grown very near to tomatoes or lettuce, it will boost production of those crops.
  • When apples are grown nearby, the root of the carrot will taste bitter.
  • The foliage has antibacterial and insecticidal properties. European Starlings use the foliage in their nests, reducing the number of mites and parasites that infest their hatchlings.

The plant contains quite an array of biochemicals. “Daucus [carota] has been reported to contain acetoneasaronecholineethanolformic acid, HCN, isobutyric acidlimonenemalic acidmaltoseoxalic acidpalmitic acidpyrrolidine, and quinic acid.” (Wikipedia)

Also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, the plant has a significant fan base. But not everyone is charmed. Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington states — but not California — have listed it as a noxious weed. In Minnesota and Washington it’s illegal to sell, transport, or propagate it. It’s listed as invasive in a number of national parks. You will find an extensive literature about this plant online; search for Daucus carota.

Links: Wikipedia CalFlora CalPhotos Carrot Museum CABI

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