Seen Along the Edges–Ethnobotany of Queen Anne’s Lace

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By Neva Knott

Queen Anne’s Lace can be seen along the edges. This weed, herb, or wildflower provides the fine goods trim for wood lots, disturbed areas such as fields, bramble patches, sidewalk strips, un-mown vacant lots, and meadows. Individual plants grow to be about four to five feet in height, and shoot out in a radial pattern from the ground. The flower opens to a flat top supported by a triangular arrangement of stems that attach to the main stalk. In this position, the flower appears mostly white, yet the underpinnings remain light green in tint. Characteristically, there is one small blue-black dot in the center of the now-mature flower. As the flowers move to seed stage, they are gathered inward on themselves, as if in a tight fist. At this stage, the coloration is somewhat light green, but not bright. In some instances, a flower will cup under, looking much like a bell.  When the plant dies off,  it can be seen to stay standing in the ground, but to go brown, often with flowers still intact. The detail in the flowers is as intricate as the name implies. Each flower is made up of many small lace-like buds and petals, with whispy, even whimsical stamen. The leaves themselves are somewhat lace-like,  though of a sturdy texture. They are a shade darker in color than the light green tint of the flowering parts.

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is a member of the Apiaceae, or parsley, family and is the type of plant called a forb. It is a biennial, vascular, seeded plant; the seeds disperse by the wind. According the Pojar and Mackinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast,  this plant was introduced from Eurasia, and is an ancestor of the cultivated carrot grown and eaten today. Several sources consulted firmly state that it holds the status of noxious weed. It can be found in all of the 48 lower US states, and is considered overgrown in all of them. This status ties to the plant’s ecology in that it is most often found in cleared or abandoned areas—waste areas that are undergoing successional change of some sort, and where this plant is prolific, possibly crowding out native species.  In terms of ecological function, Queen Anne’s Lace does provide a minor food source for small mammals and terrestrial birds.  For example, certain caterpillars eat the leaves, bees drink the nectar, and predatory insects eat the plant’s prey such as aphids.  The taproot, something like a common carrot, is edible by humans. Queen Anne’s Lace is an effective companion crop, attracting wasps, boosting production, and cooling the microclimate. Even though Daucus carota is generally perceived as a weed, it does fulfill an important function in the ecosystem.

This plant holds an interesting connection to human culture, both folkloric and curative. The legend of the plant’s name comes from the expertise in lace-making of Queen Anne of Denmark, and the purple spot in the middle is said to signify a single drop of blood from a needle prick to her finger.  Many sources explain that the seeds have served as contraception for at least 2,500 years. Chinese research has confirmed the plant as an abortifacient. As well, the Native Americans attribute it curative uses for swelling, diabetes, blood disorder in men, pimples and paleness, urine stoppage, and as a purgative.  Clearly, this “weed” serves diverse purposes in biotic communities of both non- and anthropoecentric nature. The wide-ranging effects of Queen Anne’s Lace, along with the aesthetic pleasure of gazing upon the plant itself, might serve to reorient the perspective of it from that of weed to that of herb. As well, its flourishing nature might serve to send a message about how landscapes are used and lain to waste by humans.

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One thought on “Seen Along the Edges–Ethnobotany of Queen Anne’s Lace

  1. Great piece! I found this to be particularly interesting because, for some unknown reason, I was deathly afraid of these when I was a kid (and they were all over our farm). I definitely remember the black dot freaking me out and there was something about the intricacy of the “lace” that bothered me. Weird, I know!

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