|The umbel of a wild carrot|
Daucus carota, whose common names include wild carrot, bird's nest, bishop's lace, and Queen Anne's lace (North America), is a white, flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native to temperate regions of Europe and southwest Asia, and naturalized to North America and Australia.
The wild carrot is a herbaceous, somewhat variable biennial plant that grows between 30 and 60 cm (1 and 2 ft) tall, and is roughly hairy, with a stiff, solid stem. The leaves are tripinnate, finely divided and lacy, and overall triangular in shape. The leaves are bristly and alternate in a pinnate pattern that separates into thin segments. The flowers are small and dull white, clustered in flat, dense umbels. The umbels are terminal and approximately 3–4 inches (8–10 cm) wide. They may be pink in bud and may have a reddish or purple flower in the centre of the umbel. The lower bracts are three-forked or pinnate, which distinguishes the plant from other white-flowered umbellifers. As the seeds develop, the umbel curls up at the edges, becomes more congested, and develops a concave surface. The fruits are oval and flattened, with short styles and hooked spines. The fruit is small, dry and bumpy with protective hairs surrounding it. The fruit of Daucus carota has two mericarps, or bicarpellate. The endosperm of the fruit grows before the embryo. The dried umbels detach from the plant, becoming tumbleweeds. The function of the tiny red flower, coloured by anthocyanin, is to attract insects. Wild carrot blooms in summer and fall. It thrives best in sun to partial shade. Daucus carota is commonly found along roadsides and in unused fields.
Similar in appearance to the deadly poison hemlock, D. carota is distinguished by a mix of tripinnate leaves, fine hairs on its solid green stems and on its leaves, a root that smells like carrots, and occasionally a single dark red flower in the center of the umbel.
Like the cultivated carrot, the D. carota root is edible while young, but it quickly becomes too woody to consume. The flowers are sometimes battered and fried. The leaves are also edible except in large quantities.
Extra caution should be used when collecting D. carota because it bears a close resemblance to poison hemlock. In addition, the leaves of the wild carrot may cause phytophotodermatitis, so caution should also be used when handling the plant. It has been used as a method of contraception and an abortifacient for centuries.[better source needed]
If used as a dyestuff, the flowers give a creamy, off-white color.
D. carota, when freshly cut, will draw or change color depending on the color of the water in which it is held. This effect is only visible on the "head" or flower of the plant. Carnations also exhibit this effect. This occurrence is a popular science demonstration in primary grade school.
This beneficial weed can be used as a companion plant to crops. Like most members of the umbellifer family, it attracts wasps to its small flowers in its native land; however, where it has been introduced, it attracts very few wasps. In northeast Wisconsin, when introduced with blueberries it did succeed in attracting butterflies and wasps. This species is also documented to boost tomato plant production when kept nearby, and it can provide a microclimate of cooler, moister air for lettuce, when intercropped with it. However, the states of Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and Washington have listed it as a noxious weed, and it is considered a serious pest in pastures. It persists in the soil seed bank for two to five years.
Several different factors can cause the root of a carrot to have abnormal metabolites (notably 6-methoxymellin) that can cause a bitter taste in the roots. For example, carrots have a bitterer taste when grown in the presence of apples. Also, ethylene can easily produce stress, causing a bitter taste.
Queen Anne's lace
D. carota was introduced and naturalized in North America, where it is often known as Queen Anne's lace. Both Anne, Queen of Great Britain, and her great grandmother, Anne of Denmark, are taken to be the Queen Anne for whom the plant is named. It is so called because the flower resembles lace, prominent in fine clothing of the day; the red flower in the center is thought to represent a blood droplet where Queen Anne pricked herself with a needle when she was making the lace.
History through artwork
The history of Daucus carota and its cultivation in different parts of the world can be traced back through historical texts and artwork. Paintings from the 16th and 17th century, for example, that are of maids in a market or farmers' most recent crops can provide information on carrots' history. Studying such paintings shows that yellow or red roots were cultivated in Turkey, North Africa, and Spain. Orange roots were cultivated in 17th century Netherlands.
"As far as known cultivated forms have only been derived from the species Daucus carota L. Classification of the wild forms of this species is difficult because of a more or less continuous variation in the material. But THELLUNG (20) classifies them in two groups, eucarota and gummiferi, each consisting of five main types (subspecies). Plants of the group eucarota are mostly annuals or biennials; this group comprises the subspecies maritimus, carota, maior, sativus (cultivated carrot), and maximus. Plants of the group gummiferi are often perennials, but they die after flowering once; this group includes the subspecies commutatis, hispanicus, fontanesii, bocconei and gummifer. Daucus carota subsp. carota is the most common wild carrot of Europe and S. W. Asia."
Both domestic and wild carrot are from the same species, Daucus carota L. There are several subspecies of Daucus carota that have evolved to different climates and atmospheres. Two examples of these subspecies are specifically from the Netherlands. D. carota subsp. sativus has roots that can be a wide range of colors. It has a thicker root and sweeter taste. The whorl of barbs above the spine on the vallecular ridges of the mericarp of D. carota subsp. sativus mature very well. D. carota subsp. carota has white roots that do not vary in color and, unlike D. carota subsp. sativus, have a thin root, bitter taste and are not edible. The middle umbellet of D. carota subsp. carota is not well developed (unlike in D. carota subsp. sativus) and the color of the flower can vary from red to deep purple.
Biochemistry and experimentation
"Daucus [carota] has been reported to contain acetone, asarone, choline, ethanol, formic acid, HCN, isobutyric acid, limonene, malic acid, maltose, oxalic acid, palmitic acid, pyrrolidine, and quinic acid."
Skin contact with the foliage of Daucus carota, especially wet foliage, can cause skin irritation in some people. "Sensitized photosensitive persons may get an exact reproduction of the leaf on the skin by placing the leaf on the skin for a while, followed by exposure to sunshine." It may also have a mild effect on horses.
The compound falcarinol is naturally found in Daucus carota for protection against fungal diseases. Lab tests show the compound to be toxic to mice and the water flea Daphnia magna. Normal consumption of carrots has no toxic effect in humans.
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