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What is Apiaceae?

By Angie Bates
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Apiaceae is a family of plants primarily consisting of herbs found in temperate regions. Commonly referred to as the parsley family, apiaceae consists of 300–400 genera and approximately 3,000 species. Although most plants are used for vegetables and spices, some are used for ornamental purposes and a few species are poisonous.

Though species of apiaceae are used in many different ways, they generally have a relatively uniform appearance. Most species have inflorescences, or clustered branches of flowers, which form an umbrella shape, called an umbellate. Flowers are small, and fruit grows in two parts, which split when mature. Plants also often have hollow stems.

Plants used for vegetables in this family include parsley, celery, parsnips, and carrots. The family's namesake, parsley, Petroselinum crispum, is originally native to Europe and the Mediterranean, but now can be found all over the world. It is often used as a garnish for dinner dishes, particularly in restaurants, and is found in many recipes. The parsley plant grows approximately 1 foot (0.3 m) tall and consists of groups of small green leaves dotted with tiny yellow flower clusters.

Commonly used for spices, many plant seeds are ground or processed to create the bottled spices stocked in grocery stores. Spice plants found in apiaceae include cumin, anise, coriander, dill, and caraway. Some of these plants have been used for spices for centuries. For example, cumin, Cuminum cyminum, is native to the Mediterranean and has been used as a spice even in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. The fruit of the cumin plant is approximately 10 inches (25 cm) long, with one seed inside each fruit.

A few species of apiaceae are used for ornamental purposes, such blue lace flowers and sea holly. The blue lace flower, Trachymene caerulea, is an annual plant often found in gardens, green houses, and flower arrangements. Colorful, blue lace reaches 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) tall, topped with lavender or blue flower clusters. This plant likes sun or partial shade.

One of the most famous poisonous plants is found in this family: poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, the plant which poisoned the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates. Poison hemlock is native to Europe, but is found in the United States as well. These plants may be up to 6–10 feet (1.8–3 m) tall and are usually found along edges of roadways, trails, and fields. Its leaves are similar to a carrot's, and the flowers are white clusters in the familiar umbrella shape common to the family. This plant is most easily distinguished by its pungent smell and the light red spots dotting its stem.

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