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Lomatium is a genus of about 75 species of perennial herbs native to western North America. In the Apiaceae family and related to many edible species like carrots and celery, it too is edible. The common names for it are biscuitroot, Indian parsley, and desert parsley, because it too is edible and was extensively used by Indians in the inland northwest as a staple food.
Roots range from woody taproots to more fleshy underground tuberous-thickened roots. Most Lomatiums are a desert species or grow on bluffs where there is limited water for most of the year. They are green and grow the most during the spring when water is available, then set seed and dry out completely above ground before the hottest part of the year- while storing the energy they gained from photosynthesizing while water was available to them in their deep seated roots. For most of the year you wouldn't even know a plant was there, the brown tops often are blown off or easily crushed, but it lies in wait underground for the next spring.
Compound umbels, involucre wanting or inconspicuous, white or yellow flowers, more rarely a purple or maroon color. As with most Apiaceae the fruit is really what sets the genus apart from other yellow or white flowered look-alikes like Cymopterus and Oreogenia. Uniquely they are dorsally flattened and winged- which can be papery or corky but help the seed to dispurse a little further on the wind. The dorsal ribs may or may not be there on the fruit, but are narrowly winged if at all. Leaves are mainly basal and dissected (ternately, pinnately, or ternate-pinnately dissected or compound), many look like ferns or can be mistaken for such by botanical novices except ferns don't have flowers or seeds- they have spores, because their leaves are so thin and branched.
Once classified as Cogswellia.
Grows in a variety of habitats throughout western North America with many endemic species from coastal bluffs to piles of basalt rock.
There are many species whose habitat is under threat by development, grazing and wildfires. There is also some concern about particular species like Lomatium dissectum which is mainly harvested from the wild for herbal uses.
Because the genus is so difficult to identify but has great genetic diversity new species are still being found today such as Lomatium tarantuloides, many species often have a very limited range, part of the reason they were not found before is that they exist nowhere else and there are few to begin with.
Cultivation and Uses
Several species, including L. cous, L. geyeri, and L. macrocarpum, are sometimes known as biscuit roots for their starchy edible roots. These are or have been traditional Native American foods, eaten cooked or dried and ground into flour. Some Native Americans ground Lomatium into mush and shaped into cakes and stored for later use. Their flavor has been compared to celery, parsnip, or stale biscuits.
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- Lomatium. The Jepson Manual.
- Hitchcock & Cronquist (1973). Flora of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. pp. 327–334. ISBN 0295952733.
- Darrach, M.E.; C.E. Hinchlif (18 February 2014). "Lomatium tarantuloides (Apiaceae), a new narrowly endemic species from northeast Oregon". Phytoneuron. 2014 (27): 1–8. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- US NPS Medicinal Plants