Queen Anne’s Lace

2016 February 13

This is another common plant that flowers almost continuously from mid-summer all the way into fall (these pictures are from August 19, 2015, which was getting near the end of their blooming season). It is “Queen Anne’s Lace”[1] (or, more prosaically, wild carrot), Daucus carota

While some of the blossoms are pure white, most of them have one or more florets in the middle that are deep red to purple[2], like this one:

When they flower, they put nearly all their resources into the flower and seed head, so there is just a tall green stem and a few wispy leaves.

Once the flowers are pollinated, they close up into a ball so the seeds can mature.

After ripening, the heads turn brown and open up a bit so that the spiky seed coats can snag on passing animals. They aren’t as bad as burrs, because the spikes don’t have hooks. It is still good enough to get the seeds spread around, though.

So, when I say that Queen Anne’s Lace is “wild carrot”, this turns out to be exactly true. Carrots are the result of domesticating this very species. It turns out that this is one of many types of biennial plants. The first year, it just produces greenery, dumping resources into an enlarged root. If it is a domesticated carrot, we then dig it up and eat this large, tasty root in the fall. But if it is a wild carrot, the root overwinters, and then in the spring it dumps all its resources into that tall flower stalk. You don’t want to eat the roots at that point, because they’ve become all nasty and woody. One thing I’m not sure of is whether Queen Annes Lace in North America is the result of seeds of the original wild form coming across the ocean by accident, or whether it is actually domesticated carrots that have gone feral and reverted back to the wild type. It is even possible that it came over both ways.

The green part of the plant is kind of rank and strong-flavored, and not much seems to eat it. But, for the last few years, we’ve been noticing a newcomer inside the seed heads – currently about half of the seed heads have a couple of these little caterpillars inside them:

I’ve photographed these caterpillars before, as well as their adult form. They are Carrot-Seed Moths, and they are an old “friend” of the Queen Anne’s Lace, from back in the “Old Country”.

In addition to these caterpillars, we also have Black Swallowtail butterflies around. While we’ve only seen the caterpillars eating fennel and parsely so far (which are both related to carrots), they will also eat carrot leaves if they have to, and so they may very well eat Queen Annes Lace in the wild.

[1] It is not entirely clear which of several Queen Annes is meant by this.

[2] I’ve thought about going out looking for the ones that have the greatest number of purple florets, cross-pollinating them by hand, and then selectively breeding for more purple. This is likely to be one of those fairly fast breeding projects, since it would just be enhancing and already-existing trait. it is quite possible I could get either fully-purple heads, or heads with a big purple “eye”, within just a few generations.

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