One of those “weeds” – Queen Anne’s Lace -- is in full bloom now and adding a little bit of life and color to our landscape.
Identifying Queen Anne’s Lace
Everyone has seen Queen Anne’s Lace. It is a ubiquitous white wildflower, up to 3 feet tall, that is found in dry soils throughout the Niagara Frontier. You will see impressive stands of them on roadsides, along rail lines, in pastures, or in hedgerows.
If you look closely, you will see that what you thought was a large white, circular flower is really an umbel, or a collection of dozens of small flowers coming from a single stem. Collectively, they make for a lace-like appearance (hence the name) which I’ve always thought was best compared to a doily.
Some of them, but not all, will have a lone purple flower near the center of the umbel.
A close look will show you that the "flower" of Queen
Anne's Lace is really a collection of small flowers.
The myth behind that random flower is that Queen Anne, when she was sewing the lace, pricked herself with her needle and it’s a drop of her blood that darkened that flower (by the way, no one knows for sure if it was named after Queen Anne of Great Britain or Queen Anne of Denmark).
The stem of the plant has many fine hairs. That stem is very solid and strong as anyone who has ever attempted to pick Queen Anne’s Lace can attest. It takes a really good pull to snap them stem, and you are apt to uproot the whole plant in the process.
As the summer progresses and the flowers have done their deed, they wilt and curl up, becoming brown and cup-like; hence another common name: bird’s nest.
The Queen Anne’s Lace is a non-native species. It was brought here from Europe because early settlers needed a foodstock and the prolific wildflower provided it. The Queen Anne’s Lace is a precursor of the cultivated carrot. It produces a root that smells and tastes just like the carrots you know and love. Unlike farmed carrots, the roots are very small (1 to 3 inches) and it takes quite a few to make a meal. The roots need to be picked when young. As they age, they become starchy, even woody and do not taste good at all.
I strongly suggest against eating any wild carrots unless you are extremely familiar with it. Queen Anne’s Lace can be easily confused with its cousin, the poison hemlock, the same plant that infamously killed the Greek philosopher Socrates.
Death by consumption of poison hemlock is painful and labored – it causes muscular paralysis which ultimately prevents respiration from occurring, so the poisoned individual slowly, not quickly, suffocates. As few as a half dozen hemlock leaves will lead to death.
You also need to be careful when picking Queen Anne’s Lace if you are looking to make a centerpiece of the flowers.
The plant juices can cause phytophotodermatitis. If you’ve seen the scary local TV news reports about giant hogweed every summer for the past half dozen years, then you are familiar with what that is. The juices get on the person’s hands, which leads to hypersensitivity to ultraviolet light for approximately 24 hours; the skin, being unable to protect itself from the sun, blisters badly.
So, if you’re going to pick these flowers, wear gloves. And, encourage your kids to not touch the plants. But, Queen Anne’s Lace is a beautiful plant that’s probably better left alone, admired and appreciated for the color (and interesting stories) that it brings to the Niagara Frontier.
+Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where Queen Anne’s Lace sometimes fills vases in his home. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the 30 July 2015 East Niagara Post