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Carrot Family (Apiaceae)

Wild Species Occurring In North America

A number of species of wildflowers in the carrot family occur naturally in North America, or have been introduced from elsewhere and have spread to natural habitats.

Some of the more familiar and widespread native species of Apiaceae in North America include black snake-root (Sanicula marylandica), sweet-cicely (Osmorrhiza claytoni, O. divaricata), Scotch or sea lovage (Ligusticum scothicum), golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), marsh-pennywort (Hydrocotyle umbellata), and water hemlock (Sium suave).

Some wild species in the Apiaceae are deadly poisonous. The poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a native of Eurasia, but has spread in North America as an introduced weed. Poison hemlock may be the most poisonous of the temperate plants, and it can be a deadly forage for cattle. The famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, is thought to have been executed by being condemned in the courts to drink a fatal infusion prepared from the poison hemlock. Native species are similarly poisonous, for example, the water hemlock or cowbane (Cicuta maculata), and the bulb-bearing water hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera). Most cases of poisoning by these plants involve cattle or people eating the roots or the seeds, which, while apparently tasty, are deadly toxic.

Some other wild species, while not deadly, can cause a severe dermatitis in exposed people. These include wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) and cow-parsnip (Heracleum lanatum).

The wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne's-lace, or bird's-nest plant (Daucus carota) is a common, introduced species in North America. This is a wild variety of the cultivated carrot, but it has small, fibrous tap roots, and is not edible. The Queen Anne's-lace probably escaped into wild habitats in North America from cultivation. However, other Eurasian species in the Apiaceae appear to have been introduced through the dumping of ships' ballast. This happened when ships sailing from Europe to America carried incomplete loads of cargo, so they had to take on soil to serve as a stabilizing ballast at sea. The soil ballast was usually dumped at an American port, serving as a means of entry for many species of Eurasian weeds, which had viable seeds in the material. Species of Apiaceae that are believed to have spread to North America in this way include the knotted hedge-parsley (Torilis nodosa), Venus-comb or shepherd's-needle (Scandix pecten-veneris), and cow-parsnip ( Heracleum sphondylium).

See also Herb.



Conger, R.H.M., and G. D. Hill. Agricultural Plants. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Hartmann, H.T., et al. Plant Science. Growth, Development, and Utilization of Cultivated Plants. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

Hvass, E. Plants That Feed and Serve Us. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1975.

Judd, Walter S., Christopher Campbell, Elizabeth A. Kellogg, Michael J. Donoghue, and Peter Stevens. Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. 2nd ed. with CD-ROM. Suderland, MD: Sinauer, 2002.

Klein, R. M. The Green World. An Introduction to Plants and People. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Bill Freedman


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—A plant that requires at least two growing seasons to complete its life cycle.


—A grouping or arrangement of florets or flowers into a composite structure.


—An arrangement of flowers, whereby each flower stalk arises from the same level of the stem, as in onions.


—Any plant that is growing abundantly in a place where humans do not want it to be.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Calcium Sulfate to Categorical imperativeCarrot Family (Apiaceae) - Edible Species In The Carrot Family, Wild Species Occurring In North America - Ornamental species