Whoops, Week Ending 7/26/2020

Remember how I am always going on and on and on about having 100% identification before you harvest or use a wild (or feral) edible?

Remember last week I mentioned having “feral parsnips” growing in my garden?

After a comment from a reader last week (the blogger at https://tabularasa.org.uk/), I double-checked that alleged feral parsnip.

Here’s a photo of the domesticated parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) that were planted in the garden bed last year. They were planted early enough in the year that one had the audacity to go to seed; normally parsnips are biennials, meaning they flower in the second year of their life. I blamed this one for the volunteer parsnips coming up everywhere.

Parsnip flowers in my garden last year
Parsnip flowers in my garden last year

Here’s an updated photo of my “feral parsnip”.

A current photo of my alleged "feral" parsnip
A current photo of my alleged “feral” parsnip

The harsh sunlight makes it slightly harder to tell but those are white flowers. Not the yellow flowers of a parsnip (domesticated or otherwise), up to and including the parsnips I planted last year. (Check that first photo again.) Here’s a close up of the white mystery flowers.

A closeup of the white mystery flowers
A closeup of the white mystery flowers

So, what do I have growing here instead of a parsnip? It has leaves like a parsnip, so perhaps it is cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum)? It lacks the fuzzy stem, and doesn’t seem to be quite tall enough.

No hairs on the stem disqualifies it from being Queen Anne’s Lace as well (Daucus carota). Plus the flowers aren’t really in the proper umbrella shape, nor are the leaves shaped correctly. (Plus, there is no world in which I misidentify Queen Anne’s Lace!)

Maybe giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)? But that is rather rare in Maryland, plus giant hogweed is literally giant, growing anywhere from six up to 18 feet tall. I think I would be able to tell the difference!

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) has smooth stalks, but also has purple spots on the stems. Plus the leaves look more like a carrot, less like a parsnip. Spotted water hemlock is also a possibility, but the leaves just don’t look like a parsnip leaf. Both of these plants are extremely toxic (as opposed to just unpleasant) so I’m grateful it’s not one of those!

Let’s take a closer look at that stem … not the flowering stalk, but from around the outer edge of the plant.

A closeup of the mystery plant's stem
A closeup of the mystery plant’s stem

The way it curves inward (rather than being grooved) is hauntingly familiar. Yes, you figured it out. This appears to be … celery (Apium graveolens).

Feral celery.

One of my kids keeps trying to grow celery from the cut ends (like shown here) and usually they die before forming roots; occasionally they make it to the outside and then die when getting hardened off for the garden. Last year ONE made it all the way to the garden, and promptly bolted while getting munched by swallowtail caterpillars. Apparently a few seeds got away!

The story has a happy ending after all. This time. Remember to always, always check your identification!

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