Family: Parsley Family (Apiaceae)
Origin and Distribution: Wild carrot is native to Europe. It entered the United States about 250 years ago, probably as a contaminant of cultivated carrot seeds, and was reported in Canada about 150 years later. It has since spread throughout most of North America. It occurs all over Ohio in areas that are occasionally disturbed. Wild carrot grows in roadsides, waste places, meadows, pastures, and no-tillage fields. It prefers well-drained or dry soils and grows best in full sun. The plant is often associated with lime-rich soils.
Plant Description: Wild carrot is a biennial that looks and smells similar to cultivated carrot. Its distinctive fern-like foliage forms a rosette during the first year. During the second year of growth, it produces a succession of hairy flower stalks that terminate in umbrella-shaped clusters of small white flowers. A distinctive feature of wild carrot is the appearance of a dark purple flower (rarely several flowers) in the center of most flower clusters. Once flowers mature and seeds begin to develop, the flower cluster closes forming a cuplike bird's nest. Wild carrot reproduces by seeds.
- Root system - Wild carrot forms a long, slender, white taproot with fibrous secondary roots that become woody with age. The outer layer of root tissue often splits due to continued growth.
- Seedlings & Shoots - Emerging first are 2 seed leaves (cotyledons) that are less than an inch long and linear. The first true leaf that appears is compound with 3 main divisions. Then, highly dissected leaves are formed that grow as a basal rosette during the first year.
- Stems - The stem is compressed during the rosette stage and elongates during the second year of growth to form an upright flower stalk that is 1 to 3 feet tall, branched, hollow, grooved, and hairy. The base of the stalk may appear reddish. Usually, there are few leaves on the stem.
- Leaves - Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node), compound with many divisions, and have a carrot-like taste and smell. Divisions are further dissected giving leaves a feathery appearance. Leaves attach to stems by way of long leaf stalks (petioles) with broad bases that encircle the stem at each node.
- Flowers - Flowers are small and have 5 white petals. They form in terminal, umbrella-shaped clusters that are between 2 to 5 inches in diameter. Often, one to several dark purple flowers appear in the center of each cluster. As flowers mature, the cluster curls inward forming a cuplike bird's nest.
- Fruits & Seeds - The brownish seeds are less than 1/8 inch long, ribbed, and have bristly hairs. They usually have one flattened side and the other side is noticeably rounded.
Similar Species: Mayweed chamomile (Anthemis cotula) foliage appears similar to that of wild carrot but its flower stalks are leafier and its flowers resemble small daisies. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) also looks similar but can be distinguished from wild carrot by its leaves, which are more finely dissected and do not have a carrot-like odor, and its root system that is perennial and includes rhizomes. Wild carrot belongs to a very large family of plants with thousands of wild and cultivated species. Among the naturalized species that have a similar appearance and may be confused with wild carrot is poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is said to be one of the most poisonous plants in the world. Poison hemlock grows nearly 10 feet tall compared with wild carrot that reaches 3 feet or less. The stems of poison hemlock lack hairs but are covered with purple mottling. Also, wild carrot has a carrot-like odor while poison hemlock has a mouse-like odor. Although water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) looks similar, it grows in wet habitats while wild carrot prefers well-drained soils. The distribution of wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is generally the same as that of wild carrot but it is a stouter plant, its leaves are not as finely dissected, and it has yellow flowers.
Biology: Seedlings emerge in spring and again in fall forming a basal rosette of leaves that remains green throughout winter. Flowers are produced from July to September during the second year of growth. Flower stalks are produced in succession until the first heavy frost when the plant dies. As a result, one plant may produce up to 100 flowers and between 1,000 to 40,000 seeds. Seeds have hooked spines that attach to clothing and animal fur thereby aiding in dispersal. Carrots were grown in Asia in the 10th century and spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. A palatable Afghanistan biotype of wild carrot with a purple root is believed to be the ancestor of cultivated carrots. The orange-yellow carrot was developed in the 1600's in the Netherlands. When young, wild carrot is generally susceptible to selective herbicides. However, it can be difficult to control populations using herbicides because they are usually composed of plants of various ages. Wild carrot generally does not survive cultivation.
Toxicity: Exposure to leaves may cause irritation to the skin in some people. Cows that have eaten large amounts of wild carrots may produce milk with an undesirable flavor.
Facts and Folklore:
- 'Daucus' is from 'daukos', which is Greek for carrot.
- 'Carrot' is Celtic meaning 'red of colour'.
- The are numerous legends about how this plant became associated with and was named after Queen Anne, wife of King James I of England.
- Devil's plague was a common name given by farmers who found this weed difficult to control; rantipole means rude and reckless.
- It is not known if there are benefits associated with having a purple flower located in the center of some flower clusters. A study showed that insects were neither attracted nor repelled by the presence or absence of the flower.
- The first year roots of wild carrot are reported to be edible, but care must be taken to not mistake poison hemlock for wild carrot.