July 24, 2016
I know I’m not alone in my love of Queen Anne’s lace, or wild carrot (Daucus carota). I can’t claim it as a signature plant of Maine since it is hardy and adaptable and has spread from its probable origins on the Iranian plateau over most temperate areas of the globe. But I nonetheless draw a strong association between the appearance of its frothy greenish-white clusters above the grasses in fields, abandoned lots, and along sunny country roads, and mid-summer in Maine. This is a time when Mainers can feel warm, even a little too warm.
Each Queen Anne’s lace “flower” is actually a world in itself, a vast forest of blossoms. The key component is a tiny five-petal floret. There are myriad florets in each flower, all held on fine curving brackets to form dozens of small “bouquets” which in turn are supported by a larger set of brackets to form the lacy umbrella of the wild carrot flower. This mandala-like pattern of complexity is repeated in the feathery tripinnate leaves of the plant: feathers within feathers, within feathers.
At the center of a Queen Anne’s lace flower is a single, deeply colored floret, no bigger than a speck. All the Queen Anne’s lace flowers I have looked at in Maine have a dark purple bloom here, but it apparently can be red, and sometimes isn’t there at all. According to legend, this touch of aristocratic color is indeed royal in its origin: one day when Queen Anne (of England and the flower’s name) was making lace, she pricked her finger and a single drop of blood fell on her delicate needlework, there, of course, to reside forever more.
The colored floret is itself infertile but is thought to create a reproductive advantage for the plant by attracting pollinators. For me it is always satisfying to spot the colorful dot in the expanse of foamy white.
In the noontime heat
birds, mice, hares, all are dreaming—
field of Queen Anne’s lace
Among other sources, the account of Queen Anne pricking her finger is given in Joel S. Denker, “The Carrot Purple.” Susan R. Friedland, ed. Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2008.