silhouetted dried seed heads of cow parsley

With the first tentative hints of Spring showing in the hedgerows, and with daffodils and snow drops showing in the margins, I’m turning my attention towards the Spring flowers in the coming weeks.

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Anthriscus sylvestris is best known as Cow parsley but also: wild chervil, wild-beaked parsley, keck, Kex, Kecksie, Mother die, Grandpa’s pepper, Hedge parsley, Badman’s oatmeal, Rabbit meat, Lady’s lace, Fairy lace or Queen Anne’s lace.

Cow parsley is one of the most familiar wild plants of the British countryside. It is the first and most common umbellifer of spring and is found by roads, footpaths and hedges, the edges of woods, rivers, canals and fields, and on railway embankments, waste-land, brownfield sites and rough grassland.

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It’s a herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial plant in the family Umbelliferae (Apiaceae), genus Anthriscus. It is related to other diverse members of Apiaceae, such as parsley, carrot, hemlock and hogweed.

Seemingly impervious to traffic pollution, salt-spray and regular mowing by the highway authorities, from mid-Spring, most roadsides are lined with the white flowers of Cow parsley.

cowparsley

The large, flat umbrellas of small white flowers and large, fern-like leaves are familiar characteristics of Cow parsley. When crushed between the fingers, the leaves produce a strong, almost aniseed-like scent. One of several common members of the carrot family, this is the most abundant, and the earliest-flowering of the roadside umbellifers.

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The flowers are insect pollinated. The fruits mature in late-June to July and gradually fall off from July to September. Some can persist on the flower stem into the winter. There may be 800 to 10,000 seeds per plant.

The seeds have no obvious dispersal mechanism. Seeds of cow parsley growing in field margins are dispersed mainly within 1 m of the source. A few are found up to 3 m from the parent plant.

Anthriscus_sylvestris_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-162

Reproduction by seed occurs mainly after soil disturbance. Interestingly for a plant fond by rivers and canals, the seeds do not float in water, so vegetative reproduction occurs with the production of side rosettes from buds in the leaf axils of the root crown. Cutting down the flower stem before it matures stimulates abundant bud production. The buds develop taproots and the new plantlets eventually separate from the main root. Dense populations can develop in this way.

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Cow parsley is considered to be edible, sharper than garden chervil, it tastes somewhere between mild aniseed and liquorice with a hint of carrot. Though not one to even attempt to taste without being absolutely sure of its identification as Cow parsley can be mistaken for several similar-looking poisonous plants, among them hemlock and fool’s parsley. Hemlock can best be identified by its smell (like old mice nests) and the purple blotches on its stems. Hemlock is deadly and it was a preparation from this plant that was reputedly given to Socrates, the Greek philosopher, as a punishment for despising the democratic government of the time.

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Cow parsley is rumoured to be a natural mosquito repellent when applied directly to the skin. However, it can be confused with giant cow parsley/giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), the sap of which can cause severe burns after coming in contact with the skin.

A plant that epitomises both Beauty & the Beast.

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Further Reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthriscus_sylvestris
http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicweeds/weed_information/weed.php?id=115
http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/cow-parsley
http://www.arkive.org/cow-parsley/anthriscus-sylvestris/image-A23572.html
http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com/april/cow-parsley.html
http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/?page_id=446

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