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Queen Anne's Lace, a Beloved Wildflower

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

wild-flowers-queen-annes-lace

I have always loved Queen Anne's Lace. As a child, I used to pick the flowers, hold them over my head and pretend that they were lacy parasols. Or I would uproot the plant and "serve" the carrot-smelling root at pretend "picnics".

What is Queen Anne's Lace?

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is a beloved wildflower, but it is not native to North America. Its homeland is the temperate zones of Europe and Southwest Asia. European colonists brought it to our shores, as well as to Australia, where it has become naturalized on both continents.

It is named for one of the queens of England, but it is not known which Queen Anne. It could either be Queen Anne of Great Britain (1665 – 1714) or her grandmother, Anne of Denmark (1574 – 1619) wife of King James I of Great Britain. The plants were named after one of the queens because the flowers resemble the lace worn by women of the time.

Other common names are wild carrot, bird's nest, and bishop's lace.

Queen Anne’s Lace is related to carrots, but is not the ancestor of the domesticated carrots that we eat as some sources claim. Garden carrots are actually a cultivar of a sub-species, Daucus carota subsp. Sativus. Queen Anne’s Lace roots are edible and taste of carrots, but they are much smaller and skinnier. The roots are usually consumed when they are young, during the first year of the plant’s life. After that, it becomes very woody and tasteless. The long taproot enables the plant to tolerate periods of dryness.

How to Grow Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace is a biennial. It lives for two years. The first year, the plant develops a rosette of leaves. After dying to the ground in the winter, the plants send up leaves in the spring on stems that reach 1 to 2 feet in height. The plants flower in the late summer. The white lacy flowers are actually made of many tiny white flowers in an umbel shape. In the center you will see a single reddish or purple flower. In folklore, the center flower was said to represent a drop of blood resulting from the queen pricking her finger while making lace.


Queen Anne's Lace flower with characteristic purple center

Queen Anne's Lace flower with characteristic purple center

After the flowers have been pollinated, they fold in on themselves to protect the developing seeds. Once the seeds are completely matured, the folded flowers dry out and detach from the plants to be blown around the landscape like tumbleweeds spreading the seeds. The seeds have bristly hairs on them which readily attach to the fur of passing animals who transport them to new areas. The seeds germinate all during the growing season.

Queen Anne’s Lace has been used medicinally in the past, but the danger from mistaking poison hemlock for this useful weed should discourage anyone from trying to use it for modern remedies.

You should also be cautious about handling Queen Anne’s Lace. Touching the plant or the leaves can cause photo-sensitivity. Exposure to sunlight after handling the plant can result in burns and blisters. It’s a good idea to where gloves while handling it.

Queen Anne's Lace seedhead.  Note the stiff hairs on the seeds which allow them to attach themselves to passing animals to help spread the seeds.

Queen Anne's Lace seedhead. Note the stiff hairs on the seeds which allow them to attach themselves to passing animals to help spread the seeds.

How to Grow Queen Anne's Lace From Seed

The easiest way to grow Queen Anne’s Lace from seed is to collect the seed heads from wild plants when they are brown and dry. Then simply sow the seeds where you want them to grow in your garden. You can sow the seeds in either the spring or the fall. Be aware that the seedlings will look like grass until they develop their true leaves. You should also be aware that since this is a wild plant, it can become invasive and take over your garden. To prevent it from doing so, deadhead the flowers before they produce seed. This will prevent the plants from sowing seeds all over your garden. This is a problem because the seeds germinate throughout the growing season rather than just in the spring or fall.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I arrange a Queen Anne's lace bloom so it doesn't droop?

Answer: Queen Anne's lace does not hold up well in bouquets because the stems wilt and cannot hold up the flowers. Flowers that are used in bouquets are explicitly bred to have strong stems and long-lasting flowers. It would be better to use the domesticated Ammi majus which is a Queen Anne's lace look-alike. It holds up much better in bouquets.

However, if you still want to use Queen Anne's lace in your flower arrangement, you would arrange it the same way as any other cut flower. Harvest the flowers in the morning then immediately place them in water so that the cut does not callous and prevent water from traveling up the stem.

When you are ready to make your arrangement, cut the stems to your preferred length and remove all of the leaves along the part of the stem that will be in the water. The vase should be filled with warm water and a floral preservative.

To prolong your arrangement, change the water and floral preservative every two to three days, re-cutting the stems each time so that the water and floral preservative will continue to flow up the stems.

© 2016 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on April 06, 2016:

Nell Rose, is it also called Queen Anne's Lace in England?

Nell Rose from England on April 04, 2016:

How interesting! we forget how poisonous plants can be, and even though this isn't overly dangerous it is as you said similar to hemlock which is deadly, pretty flower, and a lovely name, nell

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