Barnwood Arboretum & Nature Reserve

Wildflower of the month May 2018 Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris

A common plant found on most road verges, hedge banks and on woodland edges. Flowering from April to beginning of June.
A member of the ‘Umbellifers’ or Carrot Family (Apiaceae), who can mainly be identified by their flowers which form as an umbel – where the flowers are on stalks (pedicels) that all arise from the top of the main stem. With many of this family further rays arise from the end of these upon which the flowers form. At the base of the leaf-stalks are often sheaths that clasp the stem.
Quite easy to identify, Cow Parsley has fresh-green, fern-like leaves which are 2-3 times pinnate (known as a compound leaf)– where the leaf is divided into leaflets arranged along the stalk and these leaflets may also be divided into further leaflets, as in this case. The flowers are white with small leaf-like appendages at the base of the umbel called bracteoles. Stems and stalks are downy/hairy and hollow, without spots.
Another name for this plant is Queen Anne’s Lace with many explanations to it’s name such as to when she travelled the countryside in May where the roadsides were supposed to have been decorated for her; or that the leaves were said to resemble the lace patterns carried around by Queen Anne’s court ladies. Other interesting vernacular names are Grandpa’s pepper, Badman’s oatmeal or Rabbit meat. The term Cow Parsley is probably a reference to being an inferior version of real parsley.
It is related to the herb garden chervil and it’s young leaves can be mildly aromatic when crushed.
Similar species – Upright Hedge-parsley which has solid, rough stems; dull green, roughly hairy leaves and also has bracts (leaf-like appendages) at base of main umbel which are absent in Cow Parsley. Flowers July-August.

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