About 3,000 species are related to parsley. All belong to the genus Apiaceae, also known as Umbelliferae. The latter might be easier to remember, for Umbelliferae refers to "umbel," a group of small flowers that spread out from a stem like an umbrella. Plants of the Apiaceae family all bloom in umbels. Many are, like parsley, edible, including carrots and coriander. Unfortunately, parsley relatives like water hemlock and poison hemlock are toxic. Another thing the family members have in common are how attractive their flowers are to beneficial insects like ladybirds, which prey on pests that attack gardens.
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Water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) is one of the most dangerous plants growing in the U.S. It has small white flowers and--since many plants of the parsley also have small white flowers--can easily be mistaken for one of the safer members of the Umbelliferae family.
Queen Anne's Lace
Like poison hemlock, Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota) also has small white flowers. The umbels cluster together to form a bouquet at the end of stems. Queen Anne's lace is also known as "wild carrot." Queen Anne's lace and the carrots we find in stores are different varieties of the same species.
As you might guess from the name, cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum or Heracleum maximum) is edible. The leaves of cow parsnip, which are not edible, are hairy on their undersides. Stems are also hairy and, like most members of the parsley family, are hollow. The stems are edible. So is the root.
Fern-leaved (or fern-leaf) biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) has yellow or even purple umbrels. Parts of it are edible. The root can be boiled to make a drink or ground into powder and cooked into cereals or soups. Seeds and sprouts are also edible.
As a medicine, fern-leaf biscuitroot has been used traditionally by Native Americans and First Nation people of the U.S. and Canada.
Every part of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is poisonous. It has many small white flowers, each with five petals; five-petaled flowers are typical of flowers in the Apiaceae family. Stems are purple spotted, the leaves feathery and easily mistaken for parsley. The seeds look like those of anise, another member of the parsley family.
This charmingly named flower sports white petals. Stamens poke up among the petals that are capped by pink to magenta anthers. Stamens are the male part of the flower, the anthers responsible for producing pollen. The styles of the flowers, which are the female parts, have purple bases. The stems of harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) are also purple-coloured with a green base.
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