Smoother Sweet-Cicely – Flowers

(Washingtonia longistylis) Carrot family

(Osmorrhka longistylis of Gray)

Flowers—Small, white, 5-parted ; in few rayed, long-peduncled umbels, with small bracts below them. Stein: 1 12/ to 3 ft. high, branching, from thick, fleshy, fragrant, edible roots. Leaves: Lower ones often very large, long-petioled, thrice-compound, and again divided, the leaflets ovate, pointed, deeply toothed, slightly downy ; upper leaves less compound, nearly sessile.

Preferred Habitat—Rich, moist woods and thickets.

Flowering Season—May—June.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to the Carolinas, westward to Dakota.

Graceful in gesture, with delicate, fernlike leaves, and anise-scented roots that children, like rabbit’s, delight to nibble, the sweetcicely attracts attention by its fragrance, however insignificant its flowers. In wooded places, such as it prefers to dwell in, white blossoms, which are far more noticeable in a dim light than colored ones, and finely cut leaves that can best withstand the drip from trees, abound. These white umbels bear a large pro-portion of male, or pollen-bearing, florets to the number of hermaphrodite, or two-sexed, florets ; but as the latter mature their pollen before their stigmas become susceptible to it, self-fertilization is well guarded against, and cross-fertilization is effected with the help of as many flies as small bees, which come in numbers to lick up the nectar so freely exposed in consideration of their short tongues. We have to thank these little creatures for the long, slender seeds, armed with short bristles along the ribs, that they may snatch rides on our garments, together with the beggar-ticks, bur-dock, cleavers, and other vagabond colonists in search of unoccupied ground. Be sure you know the difference between sweetcicely and the poisonous water hemlock before tasting the former’s spicy root.

Was there no more important genus—containing, if possible, red, white, and blue flowers—to have named in honor of the Father of his Country ?

Another member of the Carrot family, the Sanicle or Black Snakeroot (Sanicula Marylandica), found blooming from May to July in such rich, moist woodlands and shrubbery as the sweetcicely prefers, lifts spreading, two to four rayed umbels of insignificant-looking but interesting little greenish-white florets. At first the tips of the five petals are tucked into the centre of each little flower; underneath them the stamens are now imprisoned while any danger of self-fertilizing the stigma remains. The few hermaphrodite florets have their styles protruding from the start, and incoming insects leave pollen brought from staminate florets on the early-maturing stigmas. After cross-fertilization has been effected, it is the pistil’s turn to keep out of the way, and give the imprisoned stamens a chance : the styles curve until the stigmas are pressed against the sides of the ovary, that not a grain of pollen may touch them; the petals spread and release the stamens ; but so great is the flower’s zeal not to be fertilized with its own pollen that it sometimes holds the anthers tightly between the petals until all the vitalizing dust has been shed 1 Around the hermaphrodite florets are a large number of male florets in each hemispheric cluster. Hooked bristles and slender, curved styles protrude from the little burrlike seeds, that any creature passing by may give them a lift to fresh colonizing land ! The firm bluish-green leaves, palmately divided into from five to seven oblong, irregularly saw-edged segments, the upper leaves seated on the stem, the lower ones long-petioled, help us to identify this common weed.

With splendid, vigorous gesture the Cow-Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) rears itself from four to eight feet above moist, rich soil from ocean to ocean in circumpolar regions as in temperate climes. A perfect Hercules for coarseness and strength does it appear when contrasted with some of the dainty members of the carrot tribe. In June and July, when myriads of winged creatures are flying, large, compound, many-rayed umbels of both hermaphrodite and male white flowers are spread to attract their benefactors the flies, of which twenty-one species visit them regularly, besides small bees, wasps, and other short-tongued insects, which have no difficulty in licking up the freely exposed nectar. The anthers, maturing first, compel cross-fertilization, which accounts for the plant’s vigor and its aggressive march across the continent. A very stout, ridged, hairy stem, the petioled leaves compounded of three broadly ovate, lobed and saw-edged divisions, downy on the underside, and the great umbels, which sometimes measure a foot across, all bear out the general impression of a Hercules of the fields.

Foal’s Parsley, or Cicely, or Dog-poison (AEthusa Cynapium), a European immigrant found in waste ground and rubbish heaps from Nova Scotia to New Jersey and westward to the Mississippi, should be known only to be avoided. The dark bluish-green, finely divided, rather glossy leaves when bruised do not give out the familiar fragrance of true parsley; the little narrow bracts, turned downward around each separate flower-cluster, give it a bearded appearance, otherwise the white umbel suggests a small wild carrot head of bloom. Cows have died from eating this innocent-looking little plant among the herbage ; but most creatures know by instinct that it must not be touched.

Strange that a family which furnishes the carrot, parsnip, parsley, fennel, caraway, coriander, and celery to mankind, should contain many members with deadly properties. Fortunately the large, coarse Water Hemlock, Spotted Cowbane, Musquash Root, or Beaver-poison (Cicuta maculata) has been branded as a murderer. Purple streaks along its erect branching stem correspond to the marks on Cain’s brow. Above swamps and low ground it towers. Twice or thrice pinnate leaves, the lower ones long-stalked and often enormous, the leaflets’ conspicuous veins apparently ending in the notches f the coarse, sharp teeth, help to distinguish it from its innocent relations sometimes confounded with it. Its several tuberiform fleshy roots contain an especially deadly poison ; nevertheless, some highly intelligent animals, beavers, rabbits, and the omnivorous small boy among others, have mistaken it for sweet-cicely with fatal results. Indeed, the potion drunk by Socrates and other philosophers and criminals at Athens, is thought to have been a decoction made from the roots of this very hemlock. Many little white flowers in each cluster make up a large umbel ; and many umbels to a plant tract great numbers of flies, small bees, and wasps, which sip the freely exposed nectar apparently with only the happiest consequences, as they transfer pollen from the male to the proterandro s hermaphrodite flowers. Just as the cow-parsnip shows a preponderance of flies among its visitors, so the water hemlock seems to attract far more bees and wasps than any of the umbelbearin carrot tribe. It blooms from the end of June through August.

Still another poisonous species is the Hemlock Water-Parsnip (Sium cicutaefolium), found in swampy places throughout Canada and the United States from ocean to ocean. The compound, long-rayed umbels of small white flowers, fringy-bracted below, which measure two or three inches across ; the extremely variable pinnate leaves, which may be divided into from three to six pairs of narrow and sharply toothed leaflets (or perhaps the lower long-stalked ones as finely dissected as a wild carrot leaf where they grow in water), and the stout, grooved, branching stem, from two to six feet tall, are its distinguishing characteristics. In these umbels it will be noticed there are far more hermaphrodite, or two-sexed, florets (maturing their anthers first), than there are male ones ; consequently quantities of unwelcome seed are set with the help of small bees, wasps, and flies, which receive generous entertainment from July to October.

The Mock Bishop-weed (Ptilimnium capillaceum), a slender, delicate, dainty weed found chiefly in salt-water meadows from Massachusetts to Florida and around the Gulf coast to Texas, has very finely dissected, fringy leaves and compound umbels two to four inches across, of tiny white florets, with threadlike bracts below. It blooms throughout the summer.