Nifty Tidbits: by Chuck Rigby

Printed in the Sept. 8, 2004 edition of the I.V. News

A weed, as defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary. is any undesired, uncultivated plant that crowds out a crop or disfigures a lawn. It doesn’t indicate that weeds have to be ugly, toxic, or obnoxious. Some people think dandelions are pretty and even edible and many ornamental plants, such as violets and columbine, can become weeds if they are allowed to spread. Therefore, the beautiful Queen Anne’s Lace which grows alongside roadways or vacant lots should be called a weed.
Blooming in the late summer and early fall, Queen Anne’s Lace has a large, pretty, white, lacelike flower. It is actually a combination of many small florets that originate from one point on the end of a long stem. This type of flower is called an umbell, like an umbrella, and plants with umbell flowers are placed in the family Umbelliferae. Other common members of the family are: dill, fennel, cowparsnip, lomatium, and sanicle. Two local plants in the family that are poisonous are water hemlock and poison hemlock. The last one was responsible for the death of Socrates and the hemlock tree is not related to either one.
Another edible member of the Umbell family is the garden carrot. The scientific name of the carrot is Daucus carota .”Daucus” is the Greek word for carrot and “carota” is the Latin for carrot. Therefore the scientific name means literally “carrot-carrot”. This is all relevant because the scientific name of Queen Anne’s Lace is also Daucus carota and it is sometimes called the wild carrot. This wild plant is thought to be the ancestor of all garden carrots. Carrots were developed in Asia, possibly Afghanistan, by farmers selectively breeding various strains of wild carrots.
Carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace are referred to as biennials. This means it takes two years to complete the life cycle. The first year it develops a strong tap root system and this is when the garden carrot is normally harvested. The second year it will produce flowers and seeds. Garden carrots, left to grow through the second year will produce an umbell type flower much like Queen Anne’s Lace. The deep root produced in the first year allows Queen Anne’s Lace to grow on dry roadsides and vacant lots where no watering is taking place. It stands out very clearly from the dry, brown, shallow-rooted grasses around them.
Once Queen Anne’s Lace flowers have been pollinated, usually by insects, the seeds begin to form and the flower curls up and form a basket or bird nest shape. The seeds contain little barbs or hooks which attach to an animal’s fur for easy dispersal to new locations.
Even though Queen Anne’s Lace originated in Europe and Asia, the name was not used until the plant was brought to America, probably on purpose as an ornamental and not as a stowaway. In England, the same plant is called cow parsley and is often planted to make flower gardens more attractive. There are several theories about how the name was created and at least four different queens named Anne are thought to be honored. The central floret in the flower head is often a purple color , which is the royal purple surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting. The lace pattern is also reminiscent of the lace headdresses worn by some of the royal women. Another possible source of the name is when a queen, named Anne, challenged her ladies-in-waiting to make a lace pattern as lovely as the cow parsley which was found in the royal garden.
Whatever the real origin of the name, the flower makes a very noticeable impression as one walks or drives along our roads and sees the many large, white, lace-like flowers that we have in our area during this dry brown time of year.