News & Classical Music from Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Outdoors: Carrots

A close-up of wild carrot flowers in bloom
PatrikStedrak/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Wild carrot flowers in bloom

Were wild carrot flowers named for Queen Anne, the wife of James, or Queen Anne II?

It depends on which folklore one chooses to believe, but when you look at the royal portraits of these two queens, both seemed to have a fondness for lace.

According to one story, one of the Queen Annes sponsored a lace-making contest for her ladies-in-waiting, challenging them to make a piece of lace as beautiful as the flower.

The blossom would be given the name of the winner. (Queens have a way of winning their own contests.)

The root a of wild carrot, now known as Queen Anne’s Lace, is waxy, white and slender.

To the inevitable question, "Can you eat it?" 

The answer is:  "It's much too tough to eat because it's in its second year."

Understand that carrot plants are biennials — plants that take two years to bloom and make seeds.

During its first year, a carrot, wild or cultivated, puts down a taproot and sends up a bunch of ferny looking green leaves. All summer, these leaves take the energy of sunlight, turn it into food and store it in their roots.

In the case of the cultivated carrots, at the end of their first summer, when the roots are plump with stored food, we go to the garden, pull the carrots and we eat them.

Wild carrots, in contrast, remain in the field and go into dormancy.

Next spring, the wild carrot plants will use the food stored in roots to put out tall stems topped with multiple heads of lacy white flowers — our Queen Anne's Lace blossoms.

The long, plump carrots we know and love were developed by plant breeders in the Netherlands in the 16th century.

Though the story that the Dutch selected mutant orange carrots to honor William of Orange simply is not true, through the centuries, when a mutant carrot was attractive, people saved and propagate its seeds.

Apparently, the Dutch thought sweet orange carrots were more appealing than insipid yellowish veggies.

I know I do.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.