So here’s Queen Anne’s Lace, the less noxious relative of that Pesky Wild Parsnip. Though only slightly less noxious, I’m discovering. This plant can also be toxic in the same phytophototropic way, with chemicals in its juices that can cause skin irritation, though it would appear less so than its cousin. And, like the wild parsnip, it is technically an imported species; some states as well as the federal government consider it an invasive pest.
The Latin name for this plant is Daucus carota, and it was from this plant that we get today’s cultivated carrots. I had no idea! In fact, there are a lot of interesting things about this flower that surprised me as I started reading about it. It’s seeds have been used throughout the ages as a contraceptive, and research done in the 1980s confirms that it is an effective abortifacient. It has other medicinal uses as well, namely as a diuretic tea and a stomach settler. It’s sometimes considered a companion plant for tomatoes because it attracts lady bugs, which eat aphids, which eat tomatoes. And I’ve read in one spot that it can even create a special cooler wetter micro-climate for lettuce (though I can’t seem to find confirmation of that anywhere other than Wikipedia!).
But the main question I’ve been wondering about Queen Anne’s Lace is: what’s the deal with that tiny dark reddish purple flower smack dab in the center? I’m still not sure. The most popular story behind why it’s called Queen Anne’s Lace incorporates this central floret: Queen Anne was making lace when she pricked her finger and a drop of red fell onto the fabric. Thus, the white flowers represent the lace while that red flower is the drop of blood. But according to the Carrot Museum website (yes, there is a Carrot Museum in the UK), there are other stories as well, including that the red floret is the Queen herself and the white flowers her lace collar.
Whatever the legend behind the name, the biological reason seems equally unclear. One theory is that the red flower resembles an insect and tricks other insects into thinking that if one bug is already there, the flower is obviously worth landing on (and pollinating). Another theory holds that it’s just a genetic oddity with no reproductive value.