The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 4, 2005


Biodiversity Corner: Queen Anne's Lace

"What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet."

Name: The scientific name of Queen Anne's Lace is Daucus carota. Other common names are wild carrot and bird nest weed. Queen Anne's Lace is in the Parsley family, the Umbelliferae, along with other well-known plants like celery, parsnips, dill, parsley, caraway, coriander, chervil and fennel. The garden carrot is a sub-species, Daucus carota sativa, even though it bears little resemblance today to its wild relation. Don't go eating "wild carrot" unless you know your wild plants very well — it is easy to mistake it for hemlock, Conium maculatum, or fool's parsley, Aethusa cynapium, both of which are poisonous. (The hemlock made famous by Socrates is the hemlock flowering plant, not the hemlock tree which is not poisonous.)

When and where seen: Queen Anne's Lace is a common plant around town — some may call it a weed. At this time of year, you can see the distinctive seed stalks sticking up through the snow behind the Corey Auditorium, at Great Brook Farm State Park, beside the Banta-Davis playing fields, and probably many other places. It likes to grow in open sunny places like meadows, along roadsides and in waste lands.

Identification: The plant grows about two to three feet. The leaves are finely divided and look a bit like parsley or carrot tops. The large white lacy flat-topped flower is really a lot of tiny flowers clustered together in an umbel, often with a single small purple flower right in the center. The stems are grooved and slightly hairy, unlike the poison hemlock which has smooth stalks. The tap root is pale and skinny compared to the garden carrot. When the flowers are pollinated, the flat umbel closes in on itself and starts to resemble a bird nest, hence the other common name, bird nest weed. When the seeds are mature, the outer parts of the umbel can open out or close up depending on the level of moisture in the air. When the air is dry, the umbel opens and the little bristly seeds may be blown away or carried off on the fur of animals. If you bite on one of the seeds, you will get a strong carrot taste.

Butterflies: Queen Anne's Lace is one of the host plants for the caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly. You may have seen these very colorful black, green, and yellow striped caterpillars on your garden parsley or carrot tops.

References: Donald and Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers; Lauren Brown, Weeds in Winter; Lee Peterson, A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. These books are all in the Gleason Library — as soon as I take them back!

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Send your ideas, your nature photos, or the whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

Lichens, anyone?

New England Wildflower Society is again offering classes on lichen identification. There is still room in the class starting next week on March 10 on bark-encrusting lichens, and another class in the summer on cemetery lichens. Check them out at

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito