Jan 10, 2014

Queen Anne’s Lace

A Beautiful Invader

By Lawanda Jungwirth

         People who are able to identify only a few wildflowers usually know Queen Anne’s Lace. The white, lacy umbrella-shaped flowers are easy to recognize. That is, until the past few years when several even more invasive very similar looking plants began their march along our roadsides.   But Queen Anne’s Lace has a secret. In the very middle of the 3”-4” cluster of white flowers that makes up the umbrella shape is a tiny dark purple flower. None of the others have it.

         The other identifying characteristic is that Queen Anne’s Lace smells like carrots. One of its many nicknames is “wild carrot” and in fact, it is the progenitor of our cultivated carrots. The root of Queen Anne’s Lace looks like a skinny washed out carrot. It is edible, but has a woody texture unless dug when very young. Even then it’s not very tasty when eaten raw. You can find recipes on the internet for wild carrot cake and wild carrot cream soup, but here’s what you should know: Queen Anne’s Lace looks very similar to poison hemlock and unless you are one hundred percent certain you’ve identified the plant correctly, you shouldn’t take a chance on consuming it.

         Queen Anne’s Lace grows 2-4 feet tall and blooms from May through October along roads and trails and in other sunny, open, disturbed areas. It is a biennial plant, meaning that it lives two years before setting seed and dying. It spends its first year developing its delicate fern-like leaves and growing strong so that it can produce its flower the second year. Every tiny flower produces barbed seeds that spread by attaching to animal fur and clothing. Each plant can produce from 1,000 to 40,000 seeds, so plants that lined the ditches one year have no difficulty taking over an entire unplowed field the next, especially if deer and other animals make regular treks across the property.

         After bloom, Queen Anne’s Lace’s umbrella-like flowerheads curve upward, like a wind-blown umbrella. They turn gray-brown and resemble bird’s nests, thus another name for the plant is “bird’s nest plant.” Other names for the plant are Bees’ Nest, Devil’s Plague, garden carrot, Bird's Nest Root, Fool’s Parsley, Mother Die, Lace Flower, Rantipole, Herbe a dinde and Yarkuki.

         While the root is edible, some people may develop a rash from touching the plant’s stems and leaves, especially when they are wet. Queen Anne’s Lace is mildly toxic to horses and cattle but not sheep. Bad news if it invades a hayfield.

         Like most of our invasive plants, Queen Anne’s Lace came to us from Europe, possibly as long ago as in grain sacks brought by the Pilgrims. It’s listed as a noxious weed in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, but for some reason has flown beneath the radar of the Wisconsin DNR’s invasive species rule NR40. It is however, on the list of invasive plants drawn up by the Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin (www.ipaw.org).

         Queen Anne’s Lace easily outcompetes native plants in newly restored prairies and wildflower meadows. However, if controlled early and consistently, it tends to decline as native grasses and flowers become established. In the home landscape, Queen Anne’s Lace can be hand-pulled or mowed before seed set. Larger areas can be mechanically cultivated, again before seed set. As a last resort, glyphosate, triclopyr or 2,4-D can be applied in fall. Note that all these chemicals will also kill every other plant in the area. Read pesticide labels carefully and follow directions exactly. Whichever method you choose, the area must be re-checked for survivors the next year. 

WINTER DECORATIONS. Beautiful winter snowflake decorations can be made from Queen Anne’s Lace. Snip the flowers just below the flowerhead in July or August. Press them to dry for a few weeks between sheets of newspaper weighted down the heavy books. Spray both sides of the flattened flowers with spray adhesive and sprinkle lightly with fine pearl glitter. Glue a ribbon at the center back of the flower. 

CAUTION! Queen Anne’s Lace looks very similar to poison hemlock, a plant so toxic that you shouldn’t even touch it. Look closely at the stems. Queen Anne’s Lace has a green, hairy stem. Poison hemlock has a smooth stem with purple or black spots or streaks on it. Once you eliminate the possibility of poison hemlock, there are still other plants that look similar:   wild chervil, hedge parsley, garden heliotrope and wild caraway. Look for the tiny purple flower in the middle of Queen Anne’s Lace’s white flower cluster and for the smell of carrots in the broken stem and roots.