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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

The Parsley or Carrot Family: Apiaceae  (page 1 of 3)

The scientific names, Umbelliferae and Apiaceae are both acceptable, although the latter is preferred today by most botanists. There are about 440 genera and 3,590 species in the family. Most are non-woody. Typically their stems are thick and often hollow and the leaves wrap, or sheath about the main stem, as in celery or fennel plants. Small flowers are arranged in flat-topped clusters; the resulting inflorescence resembles the ribs of an inside-out umbrella, the origin of the older family name, Umbelliferae. In some species the flowers heads are compound; i.e., each stemlet divides further. The flowers themselves are almost always radially symmetrical with five small sepals and five petals, although it may take a magnifying glass to make out these details. Some of the genera contain many similar species, so identification can be difficult. The family is valued mostly for its edible plants: carrots, celery, fennel, chervil, parsley, parsnip, etc., and herbs, including coriander, cumin, caraway, dill, and angelica. It is unwise to eat wild umbellifers unless their identification is certain—several are extremely poisonous. The family name “Apiaceae” was derived from apium, the Latin word for parsley.

Lyall’s angelica, Angelica arguta Nutt.  (left and right), grows to treeline, blooming from midsummer on along mountain streams and in wetlands. The name angelica was derived from supposed medicinal properties disclosed by an angel. Our species name, arguta, means “sharp-toothed” for the shape of the compound pinnate leaves. The leaf-bearing stems angle outward about 20 degrees further at the nodes, where the leaves come off, an identifying feature. David Lyall (1817-1895), whose name is associated with this plant (formerly known as Angelica lyallii) was an assistant surgeon and botanist on Captain James Ross’s voyage of exploration (1839-1844) to the northern Pacific and arctic regions. Lewis and Clark also collected an angelica (probably this species) along  the Lolo Trail in northern Idaho on their outbound journey in 1805 and again on their return journey in 1806.

The Northern (or common) yampah, Perideridia montana (Blank.) Dorn (left) blooms in mid-summer, or later, on the banks of mountain streams. It is a likely the edible plant—“a speceis [sic] of fennel”—that Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) saw Indian women harvesting on August 26th near the Lemhi Pass on today’s Idaho-Montana border (where, interestingly, yampah is no longer found). If he collected a specimen it did not survive the journey, for yampah is not represented in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium in Philadelphia.

Slender leaved lovage, Ligusticum tenuifolium S. Watson, (right) also known as “licorice root,” grow to subalpine elevations in our mountains. Dainty umbels of white flower heads are borne atop tall stems, often after the basal leaves have disappeared. Pinnate (feather-like) compound leaves with narrow, divided leaflets explain the species name, tenuifolium (“slender leaf”). As with several other umbellifers, the roots and seeds have a distinctive odor as reflected in the name “licorice root.” This plant was used by Native Americans for flavoring.

Swamp White-heads (also Rangers’ Buttons and Woolyheaded parsnip) Sphenosciadium capitellatum A. Gray (left, right) stand three or four feet high along streams and in moist meadows from foothills to mountain valleys, blooming in mid- to late summer. This is the only species in the genus Sphenosciadium. It is  identified by its woolly flowerheads, each made up of many tiny flowers. These (right) are usually white, but sometimes have a pinkish tinge. The leaves are compound, made up of three or more parts. The scientific name is derived from the Greek words sphena meaning “wedge,” and skiada  for “parasol,” referring respectively to its wedge shaped fruits and the plant’s umbels. The species’ name, capitellatum, means “little heads.”
Western water-hemlock, Cicuta douglasii (DC.) J. M. Coult. & Rose  (left, right) is not a food plant. The related European hemlock, Conium maculatum L., also grows throughout the United States). It was the plant that poisoned Socrates. Ours is also extremely poisonous. It is a handsome plant with dark green, shiny, three-parted, serrated leaves. Clusters of muddy-white flowers resemble exploding fireworks. The plant grows along streams, and in moist meadows as high as treeline. The stems are hollow and are perfect for making whistles—the poison reportedly has killed children who did so. It has also been the murder plant of choice in more than one detective novel. The Latin word Cicuta originally referred to a now unidentifiable poisonous member of the parsley family—possibly the European hemlock mentioned above. The species name commemorates David Douglas (1798-1834), he of the fir tree, who introduced more North American plants into English gardens than any other plant hunter.

Poison hemlock, Conium maculatum L. is the Eurasian hemlock mentioned above. It is a common plant now found throughout the United States and all but the northernmost provinces of Canada, usually on moist ground, in settled areas. It is tall, frizzy-leaved, and hollow-stemmed. The plants grow to be 5 feet or more high. Its species name, maculata, means "spotted" referring to reddish-brown spots on the plant's main stem; the generic name, Conium, is the name the ancient Greeks gave to this plant. Given how poisonous it is--the poison is a neurotoxin that affects respiration--it is surprising that there are few accounts of children being poisoned. It is not surprisingly that the poison hemlock is listed as a noxious plant in many states including Idaho.

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