The Suitcase Lady

Queen

August 8, 2017, 9:26 pm

The Queen was reigning along all the roadsides and meadows as we were driving to Madison last week. Despite low, gray skies and a deluge of rain, the trip was a visual delight thanks to her beauty.

A prolific wildflower (some would say weed) Queen Anne’s lace blooms in August, often alongside her shorter consort, blue chicory. It’s a heavenly match.

Queen Anne’s lace, officially known as Daucus carota, is a wild carrot. Originating in Europe and Asia, it was brought to America by European settlers.

Genetic evidence establishes wild carrots as the direct progenitors of our orange cultivated carrots. Check this out by crushing any part of Queen Anne’s Lace, especially the taproot, and it smells exactly like a carrot. BUT DON’T EAT IT!

Queen Anne’s lace is a member of the Apiaceae or Parsley Family along with caraway, fennel, coriander, celery, anise root and poison hemlock. Since the hemlock is a dead-ringer for Queen Anne’s Lace (which does have edible parts), it is best not to make a deadly mistake and nibble the wrong plant. Remember Socrates.

The use of wild carrots goes back 5,000 years and these carrots came in a variety of colors including white, yellow, purple, red and black. Most cultivated carrots up until the 16th century were purple. Then breeders in the Netherlands developed orange carrots, perhaps in tribute to their rulers known as the Royal House of Orange.

Queen Anne’s Lace is a biennial, low leaves and taproot develop the first year, stalk, flowers and seeds the second. The flowerhead or umbel can reach 5 inches across and is made up of many tiny flowers each of which will produce two seeds. When the seeds ripen, their delicate stalks turn inward and the flower head resembles a small bird’s nest.

Look closely at the umbel and you may see one minute cluster of purple flowers slightly off center amidst the lacy white froth. Botanists suspect that these sterile blossoms might be practicing plant mimicry. The small cluster resembles a bug sitting on the flower. Perhaps the fake bug attracts real insects which would help pollinate the plant. Scientists admit that the purple spot remains a “mystery” spot requiring more research.

It is also a mystery exactly which Queen Anne the plant was named after, and there are several contenders. Whichever  Queen it was, a beloved myth is that she pricked her finger when making lace and her dot of blood is the purple floret. One thing seems to be certain…….Queen Anne’s Lace is a fascinating carrot.

 

 

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