Daucus carota

An entry from BPotD Work-Learn student Cora den Hartigh, who writes:

Today, we have a different sort of image from a Canadian photographer living in Munich, Germany. Anne Hoerter takes her subject apart and slowly reconstructs it with photographs, sometimes using up to 40 or 50 images to achieve a single piece that is alive with motion and depth. The graceful movement Anne was able to embody with this stunning artistic representation of Daucus carota, or wild carrot, took three months to produce. Thank you, Anne! You can see more of Anne’s work at her website, Áine – Fine Art Photography.

Daucus carota is a familiar umbelliferous species known by many common names, including wild carrot, bishop’s lace, and (in North America) Queen Anne’s lace. It is a Eurasian and north African native that is widely naturalized in other temperate areas of the world. In North America, one hypothesis is that its initial spread was due to being carried across the continent by settlers in grain sacks. Described by Linnaeus in 1743 in Species Plantarum, Daucus carota has also been recognized widely in poetry and folklore. William Carlos Williams’ personifying poem is one example. Williams refers to a purple ‘mole’ in the white inflorescence. This ‘mole’ is actually a single anthocyanin-rich flower coloured deep red or purple at the centre of the umbel. Presumably, this single flower helps attract pollinators, perhaps acting as a nectar guide. Another story explains this red flower as a speck of Queen Anne’s “blood” dropped from a needle prick while sewing lace.

The little red flower is a particularly useful diagnostic character given that the plant’s feathery leaves, floral structure and tall-standing growth habit are similar to a number of poisonous relatives: poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), water hemlock (Cicuta spp.) and fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium) are counted among these! Unlike many of its toxic family members, Daucus carota tends to grow in dry open habitats and has solid hairy stems. When young, its roots are edible and smell like fresh carrots. With age the roots grow woody and the floral structure curls inward like a vase. I always look for those hairy stems and think of the ditty “Queen Anne has hairy legs”!

In many jurisdictions where the species has naturalized, Daucus carota is considered to be a noxious weed. Doug Larson’s oft-cited quote, “a weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows”, comes to mind. Brushing up against the leaves can, in some people, cause skin to be more susceptible to UV damage, but this plant can be exceedingly useful. As a companion crop, it boosts tomato production and cools lettuce; as a dyestuff, it imparts creamy tones. Medicinally, the plant dates back to early Greek and Roman writings for digestive disorders, kidney stones, skin tonics, aphrodisiacs, insecticides … the list goes on. The seeds are also a tasty flavouring for soups and stews not unlike asafoetida; however, they should be consumed with some caution. A relative of Daucus carota, silphium, is thought to have been harvested to extinction for use as a contraceptive and general tonic in ancient Cyrene (Lybia today). So important was silphium that coins were imprinted with the image of the plant. This paper from Economic Botany provides some fascinating archaeological investigation, while Wikipedia gives a good overview. Experimental trials in rats have suggested that extracts from Daucus carota seeds have “…at a lower dose showed anti-implantational activity [of the fertilized ovum into the uterus], whereas higher doses caused fetus resorption. The main effect of the extract appears to be an abortifacient activity.” Perhaps not ideal for dinner party soup stock.

Daucus carota has been featured once before on Botany Photo of the Day.

Daucus carota

8 responses to “Daucus carota”

  1. Richard Old

    The anthocyanin seen in the central flower can also be found in a more diffuse state in all the flowers of the compound umbel.
    See the images I have posted at:

  2. Justin Lee

    This made my day. What an amazing photograph. Thanks Anne and Cora.

  3. Lanie

    what a fantastic picture.

  4. Waverly Fitzgerald

    Gorgeous photo and I appreciate learning about Hoerter’s work and the WCW poem. Also all the great information about the many uses of wild carrot.

  5. cora.denhartigh

    Thank you, Richard! Those are gorgeous colours! I’ve never seen that variation before, it’s lovely.

  6. Bill Barnes

    Article above says a relative of Daucus carota is silphum , obviously not the Silphium I know which is in the Asteracea and not the Apieacea . So dare I say , why the potentially misleading information when after checking the suspect silphium in the case above is thought to be the genus Ferula , another member of the Apiacea . Perhaps this should have been clearer and more to the point

  7. Daniel Mosquin

    Bill, yes, that could have been a bit clearer. However, we used the lower-case non-italicized version, which should imply that it’s a common name. Had we done the same for Silphium (Asteraceae), we would have used rosinweed. But, fair enough. Links were provided for further investigation, so hopefully no one was lead too far astray.

  8. cora.denhartigh

    Bill, apologies for the confusion! Silphium, a species in the genus Ferula, has never been accurately identified, so I was unable to use anything but the common name. I did not consider the Silphium genus when I was writing because they are, as you say, members of the Asteraceae – but it looks as though they take their name from this ancient mystery plant! Thank you for clarifying!

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