How to Identify Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot)
Queen Anne's Lace: Check for the Purple Heart
Queen Anne's Lace: The Importance of Identification
Queen Anne’s Lace is a wildflower with lacy, white flowers. It grows in meadows and along roadsides in most of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe. The plant is a member of the carrot family, and the roots of Queen Anne’s Lace can actually be eaten when the plant is still immature (the roots become too woody to consume once the plant matures).
It is highly important to identify Queen Anne’s Lace correctly, because the plant closely resembles the highly poisonous Hemlock plant. Hemlock contains a poison called Coniine, which acts blocks the ability of the nervous system to transmit information to the muscles. Like curare, Hemlock will cause a progressive paralysis, which affects the diaphragm and results in an inability to breathe (causing death). Socrates was poisoned by Hemlock.
As Queen Anne’s Lace is often used in classroom experiments (the flower heads will change color when the fresh cut stems are exposed to dyed water), it is vital to correctly identify this plant prior to harvesting. In addition, some people do harvest and eat the roots of wild carrot, or make a jelly from Queen Anne’s Lace.
Confusing wild carrot with Hemlock would be devastating, and could result in a fatality.
Queen Anne's Lace Smells Like Carrots
One important identifier of wild carrot is the smell. Queen Anne’s Lace gives off a carrot-like smell when the leaves of the plant are crushed.
Hemlock, on the other hand, has a rank, musty smell similar to parsnips. When picking wild carrot, it is important to smell each plant before harvesting its flowers.
Queen Anne's Lace Has a Green Stem
Wild carrot has green stems with little green hairs. The stems are entirely green, with no other discoloration.
Hemlock has smooth stems, and the lower portion of the stem will be streaked with red or purple spots and lines.
Queen Anne's Lace Has a Purple Heart
Queen Anne’s Lace earned its name from the appearance of the flower: it appears like a fine lace. In the middle of the flower, there is a purple “heart” (a small, dark red or purple flower in the center). This small, red flower is said to be the blood from Queen Anne, when she pricked her finger on a needle while making the lace. The actual purpose of the tiny, dark flower is to attract pollinating insects. When Queen Anne’s Lace goes to seed, the umbrels fold up into a concave form (resembling a bird’s nest) and eventually fall off the stem to form a small tumbleweed.
Hemlock does not have a small, dark flower in the center. The flowers appear remarkably similar to Queen Anne’s Lace. When Hemlock goes to seed, it produces small brown seeds on its umbrels.
A Video Identification Guide for Queen Anne's Lace
Stay Safe: Do Not Accidentally Harvest Hemlock
Unless you are experienced in identifying the differences between wild carrot and Hemlock, it is best to avoid picking the plants for consumption. Many people have accidentally consumed Hemlock because they confuse the leaves for parsley (the alternate name for Hemlock is Poison Parsley), or the seeds for anise.
Learn the identifying signs for wild carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace) and remember them well. Hemlock is considered an invasive species in 12 states of the United States of America, and grows wildly in several other countries. Always verify the pretty white flowers in your vase belong to Queen Anne’s Lace and not its deadly mimic!
Plants that Look Like HemlockClick thumbnail to view full-size
Plants that Look Like Hemlock
Several other plants look like Poison Hemlock. The following plants may be confused with the deadly plant:
- Cow Parsley, also known as wild chervil, closely resembles hemlock. Its scientific name is Anthriscus sylvestris, and it blooms at the same time as Queen Anne's Lace and poison hemlock. Cow parsley is not poisonous, but care must be taken to properly identify the plant.
- Angelica, also known as wild celery, also resembles hemlock. It's official name is Angelica archengelica. While this plant is not poisonous, it closely resembles several toxic plants (including hemlock and hogweed).
- Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum) is also known as hogweed. This plant should also be avoided, as it contains a chemical that causes a severe rash upon exposure to sunlight.