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What Is Wild Carrot?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Wild carrot, Daucus carota, is a plant native to Europe and Asia which has been introduced into other parts of the world, including North America where it has naturalized and grows wild. It is typically found in all US states except Alaska and Hawaii, and all of Canada except Alberta and the territories. Wild carrot thrives in many soil and moisture conditions and grows readily where the natural vegetation has been disturbed. It is classified as a noxious weed in many areas where it grows.

Common names for Daucus carota, in addition to wild carrot, include birds nest, bishop's lace and, in North America, Queen Anne's lace. In Europe Queen Anne's lace normally refers to Anthriscus sylvestris, also called cow parsley. Wild carrot is a member of the Apaiaceae, also called Umbelliferae, family, and is closely related to parsnips and parsley. It was the ancestor of the familiar domestic carrot, which is botanically considered a sub-species of Daucus carota.

Wild carrot is usually a biennial plant, which means it grows over two seasons. In some areas it may live for more than two seasons and is then considered a short-lived perennial. The first year, the plant sets a rosette of long, finely divided leaves, which strongly resemble the tops of domestic carrots. Beneath the rosette grows a long, tough tap-root. The root smells like the cultivated carrot but is much tougher and less flavorful.

During its second year the wild carrot grows a branched stem, which may be up to 40 inches (about 100 cm) tall. The leaves that grow around the stem and branches are divided and lacy, just as those of the rosette are. All the leaves are slightly hairy, as is the stem.

Wild carrot flowers are usually white, and are made up of florets gathered into a large, round, flat blossom called an umbel. The flowers are sometimes tinged with pink, and have a single red or purple floret in the center. Once fertilized, the flower gradually curls up into a dry, tangled ball. The small gray-brown seeds cling to the dry tangles. They have spines which allow them to transfer to the fur or feathers of any animal or bird that brushes against the dry flower.

The plant is very common in old pastures, along roadsides, and wherever other vegetation has been disturbed. When it occurs near plantings of domestic carrots it can harbor insect pests that attack the domestic carrot crop. It spreads so easily that the wild carrot is considered a harmful weed in many areas.

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