Yellow Umbellifers

Common Parsley Common Fennel Dill Giant Fennel

What are they?

Members of the umbellifer family (Apiaceae) are a familiar sight in the countryside and this page covers species with yellow or cream-coloured flowers. 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?

The plants on this page have a wide range of habitat preferences, so the habitat they are found in can be an aid towards identification. Habitat preference is detailed under each species.

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. The hare's-ears and thorow-waxes are unusual in having the bracts and/or bracteoles enlarged and coloured so as to look like an array of petals around the clustered florets.



Common Parsnip      Pastinaca sativa

Native. A common plant on chalky soils in the west of the region, along the North Norfolk coast and around Norwich and SE Suffolk. Flowers July to August. A tall plant to 1.8m in height. Leaves once-pinnate, leaflets relatively broad and coarsley toothed at the margins and often with a large, thumb-like lobe at the base, hairy - though hairless in cultivated forms that produce the parsnips that we eat. bracts 0-2, bracteoles 0-2; fruits oval, strongly laterally compressed. The whole plant has a familiar parsnip scent.

Common Parsnip Common Parsnip Common Parsnip Common Parsnip
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Flowers
Flowers
Bracts
Common Parsnip Common Parsnip Common Parsnip
Bracteoles
Leaf
Fruits


Common Fennel      Foeniculum vulgare

An ancient introduction, now well established and common in coastal habitats and major conurbations; scattered elsewhere on roadsides and marginal habitats. Flowers July to October. A tall, often much-branched plant to 2.5m in height. Leaves three- to four-pinnate, cut very deeply into fine, thread-like segments, hairless. Bracts and bracteoles usually absent; fruits oval, like little rugby balls. The whole plant has a blue-green, waxy bloom to it and a strong, aniseed scent.

Common Fennel Common Fennel Common Fennel Common Fennel
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Flowers
'Bronze' form
Common Fennel Common Fennel Common Fennel
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Giant Fennel      Ferula communis

Introduced. A rare garden escape, a single plant beside the A11 north of Barton Mills was something of a celebrity for many years and even earned its own roadside nature reserve. Sadly it was lost when the A11 was duelled. Flowers July to October. A tall species to 3m in height (even taller in its native Mediterranean!). Leaves three- to four-pinnate, cut very deeply into fine, thread-like segments, hairless. Bracts absent, bracteoles usually 1-3; fruits oval and compressed laterally. Differs from Common Fennel in having greener leaves that are larger and more persistent, forming a dense tangle at the base of the plant. Flowers concentrated into ball-like clusters and fruits flattened.

Giant Fennel Giant Fennel Giant Fennel Giant Fennel
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Leaves
Giant Fennel
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Dill      Anethum graveolens

Introduced. Formerly more commonly grown as a herb and not recorded recently, but may occasionally be found were self-sown from garden waste or possibly from bird seed. Flowers July to August. A small, annual, typically to around 60cm in height. Leaves three- to four-pinnate, cut very deeply into fine segments, hairless. Bracts and bracteoles absent; fruits oval and compressed dorsally. The whole plant is blue-green in colour and richly aniseed-scented.

Dill Dill Dill Dill
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Flowers
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Dill Dill Dill Dill
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Lower leaf
Upper leaf
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Slender Hare's-ear      Bupleurum tenuissimum

Native. A Nationally Scarce species that continues to decline and is now rare in dry, salt-affected grassland on banks and in meadows near the coast. Flowers July to September. A small annual, to around 60cm in height but often much less and easily overlooked amongst grass stems. Leaves simple, blue-green in colour and with parallel veins; hairless. Fruits oval with a few ribs and compressed laterally. Flowers tiny, in small clusters close to the stem, orange-yellow in colour.

Slender Hare's-ear Slender Hare's-ear Slender Hare's-ear
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Slender Hare's-ear Slender Hare's-ear Slender Hare's-ear
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Round-leaved Thorow-wax      Bupleurum rotundifolium

Introduced. Formerly recorded as a scarce arable weed but more recently has occasionally been included in 'wildflower mixes' sown in gardens, from where occasional plants may self seed into disturbed ground or bare areas in urban environments. Flowers June to July. A small annual, 15-30cm in height. Leaves simple, blue-green in colour and encircling the stem; hairless. Fruits oval with a few ribs and compressed laterally, smooth between the ribs. Flowers in clusters of four to ten.

Round-leaved Thorow-wax Round-leaved Thorow-wax Round-leaved Thorow-wax Round-leaved Thorow-wax
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Flowers
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Round-leaved Thorow-wax Round-leaved Thorow-wax
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Fruit


Shrubby Hare's-ear      Bupleurum fruticosum

Introduced from the Mediterranean region as a garden ornamental and previously noted as a garden escape in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Flowers July to August. Stems grow to 2m in height but often much less. Leaves simple, green with a waxy, glaucous; hairless. Although the flowers are typical of the family, the rest of the plant is readily identifiable from other umbellifers as it is a woody-based, perennial shrub.

Shrubby Hare's-ear Shrubby Hare's-ear Shrubby Hare's-ear
Habit
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Leaves


Common Alexanders      Smyrnium olusatrum

Introduced. A highly invasive alien species that is abundant and often dominant along field edges and roadsides in milder coastal districts. Over the past 20 years or so, there has been an accelerating spread inland and many roadside nature reserves are rapidly degrading due to the presence of this species. Flowers April to June. Stems grow to 2m in height but often much less. Petals cream coloured. Leaves two- to three-pinnate, the uppers often trifoliate, hairless; bracts 0-2, bracteoles 0-2; fruits relatively large, laterally compressed and strongly ribbed, at first green but black when fully mature. The whole plant has a strong celery scent.

Common Alexanders Common Alexanders Common Alexanders
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Common Alexanders Common Alexanders Common Alexanders Common Alexanders
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Common Celery      Apium graveolens

Native. Mostly a coastal species, occurring in reedbeds and along wet ditches and dykes in coastal areas and low-lying areas in the Fens and lower Broads. The ancestor of the culinary celery that we eat. Flowers June to August. Stems grow to 1.5m in height among tall vegetation, but often much less in more open locations. Petals white but often with a greenish or yellowish tinge. Leaves once-pinnate, leaflets relatively broad and strongly toothed at the margins, hairless; bracts and bracteoles usually absent; fruits rounded, laterally compressed and strongly ribbed. Gives off a strong celery scent.

Common Celery Common Celery Common Celery Common Celery
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Common Celery Common Celery Common Celery
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Common Parsley      Petroselinum crispum

Inrtroduced. Grown as a garden plant and occasionally found as a garden escape in urban or suburban habitats. In Suffolk, the flat-leaved form is frequently found around the martello towers along the coast. Flowers June to August. Stems grow to 75cm in height but often much less. Petals cream-coloured. Leaves three-pinnate and may be found as 'flat-leaved parsley' (which resembles Celery), or 'curly parsley' which has deeply crinkled leaflets; bracts 1-3 with at least some usually with narrow side lobes, bracteoles 5-8; fruits oval, laterally compressed and smooth. Gives off a characteristic parsley scent.

Common Parsley Common Parsley Common Parsley Common Parsley
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Flowers
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Common Parsley Common Parsley Common Parsley Common Parsley
Flat leaf
Curly leaf
Curly leaf
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Pepper-saxifrage      Silaum silaus

Native. Found in grassy meadows and on grassy roadside verges on boulder clay. Often seen as an indicator of good quality, unimproved grassland. Flowers June to August. Stems typically to around 60cm in height with the flowers carried on bare, rather whispy side branches. Petals cream-coloured. Leaves one- to four-pinnate, cut very deeply into narrow segments, hairless. Bracts 0-3, bracteoles 5-11 with pale margins; fruits oval, like little rugby balls with narrow ridges.

Pepper-saxifrage Pepper-saxifrage Pepper-saxifrage Pepper-saxifrage
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Pepper-saxifrage
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