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Botany for Gardeners: Taxonomy of Dicots: Identification of the Parsley Family (Umbelliferae)

waterhemlock 2Also known as the Apiaceae and Umbelliferae, the parsley family consists primarily of herbaceous annuals, biennials, and perennials, and a few shrubs and trees. In addition to parsley, the family includes many herbs such as dill, fennel, caraway, cumin, cicely, chervil, angelica, lovage, and anise as well as vegetables such as celery, carrots, and parsnips. Queens Anne’s Lace, masterwort (Astrantia major), and sea holly (Eryngiaum spp.) are valued for their attractive flowers. Two members of the family, however, poison hemlock and water hemlock are deadly poisonous. They are not related to hemlock trees and do not resemble them but can be confused with non-poisonous members of the parsley family.

c393a8348e66e469111e36ae9bf1c4e9 Two major characteristics distinguish the family. The family name Umbelliferae gives a clue to the most easily recognized characteristic of the family.

neurontin 500 mg The flowers are borne in umbels, usually compound umbels.
The word “umbel” comes from the Latin word “umbella” meaning parasol. The flower heads of the parsley family consist of little parasols of small flowers arranged on a single main stem to form a larger parasol or umbrella.

To be a true umbel all the stems of the flowers must join at the exact same point on the stem. This is what distinguishes an umbel from other kinds of flower heads (inflorescences).


Queen Anne’s Lace

compound umbel diagram from Wikipedia

Diagram of Compound Umbel: Red circles represent flowers.

The stems are hallow

Additional characteristics include five stamens and five petals, both attached to the top of the ovary. The fruit consists of two parts that contain one seed each. Leaves are variable in size, texture, shape, and arrangement so are not particularly helpful in identification.

There are about 300 genera and 3,000 species in the family, with about 75 genera native to North America.

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Recommended Reading:

From Seed to Plant
Trees: Their Natural History
Oh Say Can You Seed?