Sunday, 19 September 2010

Meet the Carrot Family

Carrot Family - Introduction

  • The Carrot Family or more formally Umbelliferae is a family of usually aromatic plants with hollow stems. 
  • It includes angelica, anise, arracacha, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, centella asiatica, chervil, cicely, coriander/cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, lovage, Queen Anne's Lace, parsley, parsnip, sea holly, the now extinct silphium, and other relatives. 
  • It is a large family with about 300 genera and more than 3,000 species. 

Carrot Family - Botany

  • The small flowers are radially symmetrical with 5 small sepals, 5 petals and 5 stamens.
  • The family includes some highly toxic plants, such as hemlock. Many plants in this family, such as wild carrot, have estrogenic properties and have been used as folk medicine for birth control. Most notable for this use is the extinct giant fennel, silphium. 
  • The cultivated plants in this category are almost all considered good companion plants, as the umbrella of tiny flowers attracts omnivorous beneficial insects, especially ladybugs, parasitic wasps and predatory flies, which then will hunt insect pests on nearby crops.
  • The family is closely related to Araliaceae and the boundaries between these families remain unclear. 

Carrot Family - Members

Carrot Family - Notable members

Carrot Family - Cultivation

  • Many members of this plant group are cultivated, for various purposes. 
  • The plant structure includes a tap root, which can be large enough to be useful in food, for example parsnips, carrots, and Hamburg parsley. 
  • Plants of this category also are adapted to conditions that encourage heavy concentrations of essential oils, so that some are used as flavourful or aromatic herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and dill. 
  • The plentiful seeds of the umbers, likewise, are sometimes used in cuisine, as with coriander, fennel, cumin, and caraway.

Companion Plants

  • Almost every widely cultivated plant of this group is a companion plant. 
  • In large part, this is because the tiny flowers forming the umbels, for which the group is named, are perfectly suited for ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and predatory flies, which actually drink nectar when not reproducing. 
  • They then will prey upon insect pests on nearby plants.
  • Some of the plants, are herbs that produce enough scent to possibly dilute the odors of nearby plants, or the pheromones emitted by insects that find those plants, which would otherwise attract more pests.

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