Sunday, July 17, 2016

a purple heart

a purple heart
in the center of a lace doily --
invitation to alight

My attention gravitates towards anomalies. In a field of clover I will spot one with four leaves (or five or six). On a page of text a typo will pop out like a red flag. So it is that in a large colony of wild carrot blossoms, I stop at the one and only one hosting a large purple heart in the center of the white lace doily that makes up the multiple flower head. Perhaps the red tone acts like a flag to insects -- alight on me!

A few flowers sport a spot of blood red in that center point, but only a drop. The red dot indicates that these plants belong to Daucus carota, "parsnip carrot," an import from Europe, where it is called Queen Anne's Lace. Queen Anne of England was adept at making lace and the red dot is likened to a drop of blood when she pricked her finger with a needle.

These newly opening blossoms have both red hearts and pink flowers around the perimeter. When fully open, each umbel has 20 clusters.

The vast majority of flowers in this area display a completely homogeneous arrangement otiny white blossoms arranged in a radiating pattern of ever-larger clusters within the compound umbel. The lack of a red center identifies them as American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus, "parsnip puny." They are smaller than their European cousins, with only 5-12 clusters, and sometimes have pink flowers, but otherwise they look the same. it's interesting that there is a mixture of the two species within the same colony.

Young blossoms reveal the pinwheel stems that end in small bouquets.

A view from the side shows the curved stems, like the ribs of a parasol.

Here we see the spiky undergirders that support this elaborate structure.

It is this basket that protects the emerging blossom.

And then encloses the collapsing flower as it becomes a fist of seeds.

Which turns into a brown rattle, ready for the bristly ribbed seeds to drop to the ground in the spring.

In a colony of Daucus, all stages of growth from bud to seed may be going on at the same time, a good way to ensure the greatest chances for pollination and seed dispersal. No wonder this wildflower is so abundant. The perennial white root of Daucus carota smells like a carrot and is edible, especially in the first year. The long root withstands mowing to send up new shoots in the spring, while the prickly seeds easily propagate. 

Farmers consider it a noxious weed because it out competes native grasses for resources, it may be slightly toxic to livestock, making them "nervous," and it may taint the milk of dairy cows that ingest it. Some indigenous tribes ate the root, so this might be a good way to cull out unwanted plants. After all, they are probably the ancestors of cultivated carrots.

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