Long-fruited Umbellifers

Sweet Cicely Cow Parsley Rough Chervil Cow Parsley

What are they?

Members of the umbellifer family (Apiaceae) are a familiar sight in the countryside and this page deals with umbellifers that have fruits that are noticeably longer than wide, often extending into a beak-like structure. Most members of this family are immediately recognisable by their distinctive flowerheads, which consist of multiple rays spreading out from a single point on the stem, with these rays then bearing a further set of shorter rays at their tips; the flowers are carried singly at the ends of these secondary rays and the flowers are followed by distinctive fruits. Some members of this family are small annuals, while others are large biennials, forming a leaf rosette in the first year then flowering and fruiting in the following year. Some are longer-lived perennials. This is a rather unusual family since it contains plants that are commonly grown as vegetables or culinary herbs, as well as some dangerously poisonous ones - so correct identification can at times be vital!

Where are they found?

These are not all plants of any one particular habitat, so the habitat can be a useful aid towards identification. Here you may find species of wetlands, grasslands, farmland, roadsides, waste ground and urban areas.

Identification

Umbellifers may seem rather daunting at first as they all can look rather similar. However, the secret is to use a combination of characters to arrive at the correct identification. Features to check should include flower colour, stem detail (spotted/hairy/ridged), leaf detail (especially fineness of the leaf segments), fruit/seed capsule detail (shape and hairiness or whether grooved on the surface) and a check for the presence or absence of bracts or bracteoles at the points where the flowerhead rays meet (bracts at the lower, main node and bracteoles at the upper node, just below the flowers). Where possible, all these features are shown in the photos below and bract/bracteole locations are shown even when these features are absent - which can be a useful feature. Note also that many species have distinctive scents, so sniffing the plant can be useful and is best achieved by squeezing and rubbing part of the leaf or stem or digging in a thumb nail to help to release the scent.



Cow Parsley      Anthriscus sylvestris

Native. An abundant species, often forming extensive stands of white flowers along roadsides, tracks and in grassy fields. Flowers April to June, though a small number of plants also flower in the autumn. Stems to 1.5m in height, green or purple, ridged and finely downy. Leaves three-pinnate, bright green, with scattered, flattened hairs or more or less hairless; bracts absent, bracteoles 4-6, broad-based; fruits 6-10mm long, a little broader at the base than at the top.

Cow Parsley Cow Parsley Cow Parsley Cow Parsley
Habit
Flowers
Bracts
Bracteoles
Cow Parsley Cow Parsley Cow Parsley Cow Parsley
Leaf
Leaf
Stems
Fruits


Rough Chervil      Chaerophyllum temulum

Native. An abundant species found in a wide range of habitats, but most typically in shady places along tracksides, woodland edge and under tall hedges. Flowers May to July. Stems to one metre in height, green with purple dots or all purple, ridged and with scattered stiff hairs or downy. Leaves two- to three-pinnate, dull green, with prominent white down; bracts 0-2, bracteoles 5-8; fruits 4-6.5mm long, more or less as broad at the base as at the top.

Rough Chervil Rough Chervil Rough Chervil Rough Chervil
Habit
Flowers
Bracts
Bracteoles
Rough Chervil Rough Chervil Rough Chervil Rough Chervil
Leaf
Leaf
Stem
Fruits


Sweet Cicely      Myrrhis odorata

Introduced (though widespread and well-established in northern England). Generally rare in East Anglia with just a few plants seemingly established in a handful of sites. Grown as a herb and occasionally escaping into nearby rough ground or roadsides. Flowers May to June. Stems to around one metre in height (occasionally taller), the whole plant smelling of aniseed. Leaves two- to four-pinnate, broader in outline than Cow Parsely. hairless or with a few short hairs; bracts absent, bracteoles 5-6; fruits 15-25mm, green at first but dark chocolate brown and glossy when ripe; sharply ridged.

Sweet Cicely Sweet Cicely
Habit
Flowers
Sweet Cicely Sweet Cicely Sweet Cicely
Leaf
Leaf
Fruits


Common Shepherd's-needle      Scandix pecten-veneris

An ancient introduction, perhaps as early as the Iron Age. A rare plant of disturbed ground, most often as an arable weed on chalky clay soil. East Anglia is perhaps the best stronghold in the UK for this species. Flowers May to August. Plants grow to around 50cm in height, more or less hairless. Leaves two- to four-pinnate with finely cut segments; bracts absent, bracteoles 5; fruits remarkably long, up to 7cm in length and carried in upright clusters.

Common Shepherd's-needle Common Shepherd's-needle Common Shepherd's-needle
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Common Shepherd's-needle Common Shepherd's-needle Common Shepherd's-needle
Leaf
Leaf
Fruits


Southern Shepherd's-needle      Scandix australis

A rare introduction, recorded once in Suffolk. Flowers May to August. Very similar to Common Shepherd's-needle, but with broader bracteoles and with fruits that spread out widely as they mature.

Southern Shepherd's-needle Southern Shepherd's-needle Southern Shepherd's-needle
Bracteoles
Fruits
Fruits