Daucus carota, whose common names include wild carrot, bird's nest, bishop's lace, and Queen Anne's lace (North America), is a white, flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native to temperate regions of Europe and southwest Asia, and naturalized to North America and Australia.
Domesticated carrots are cultivars of a subspecies, Daucus carota subsp. sativus.
Fruit cluster containing oval fruits with hooked spines
The wild carrot is a herbaceous, somewhat variable biennial plant that grows between 30 and 60 cm (1 and 2 ft) tall, and is roughly hairy, with a stiff, solid stem. The leaves are tripinnate, finely divided and lacy, and overall triangular in shape. The leaves are bristly and alternate in a pinnate pattern that separates into thin segments. The flowers are small and dull white, clustered in flat, dense umbels. The umbels are terminal and approximately 3–4 inches (8–10 cm) wide. They may be pink in bud and may have a reddish or purple flower in the centre of the umbel. The lower bracts are three-forked or pinnate, which distinguishes the plant from other white-flowered umbellifers. As the seeds develop, the umbel curls up at the edges, becomes more congested, and develops a concave surface. The fruits are oval and flattened, with short styles and hooked spines. The fruit is small, dry and bumpy with protective hairs surrounding it. The fruit of Daucus carota has 2 mericarp, or bicarpellate. The endosperm of the fruit grows before the embryo. The dried umbels detach from the plant, becoming tumbleweeds. The function of the tiny red flower, coloured by anthocyanin, is to attract insects. Wild carrot blooms in summer and fall. It thrives best in sun to partial shade. Daucus carota is commonly found along roadsides and in unused fields.
Similar in appearance to the deadly poison hemlock, D. carota is distinguished by a mix of tripinnate leaves, fine hairs on its solid green stems and on its leaves, a root that smells like carrots, and occasionally a single dark red flower in the center of the umbel
Like the cultivated carrot, the D. carota root is edible while young, but it quickly becomes too woody to consume. The flowers are sometimes battered and fried. The leaves are also edible except in large quantities.
Extra caution should be used when collecting D. carota because it bears a close resemblance to poison hemlock. In addition, the leaves of the wild carrot may cause phytophotodermatitis, so caution should also be used when handling the plant. It has been used as a method of contraception and an abortifacient for centuries.
If used as a dyestuff, the flowers give a creamy, off-white color.
D. carota, when freshly cut, will draw or change color depending on the color of the water in which it is held. This effect is only visible on the "head" or flower of the plant. Carnations also exhibit this effect. This occurrence is a popular science demonstration in primary grade school.
Photos Mathiatis 4/6/2015 by George Konstantinou