White umbels of flowers seem to be everywhere lately. Queen Anne’s Lace, Sweet Cicely and Hedge Parsley are commonly seen.
Torilis arvensis Link.
June to September I Family: Apiaceae
Flower: About 8 small, white petaled flowers form a small umbel. An average of eight small umbels form a large, loose, terminal umbel. These can be branch tips or branches coming from upper leaf nodes. Each flower is an eighth of an inch across and the petals are of uneven size giving the flower a lopsided look.
Leaf: Lower leaves are compound with four pairs and a terminal leaflet on a half inch petiole. The number of leaflets drops as the alternate leaves are higher on the stem until only the terminal one is left. All leaflets are lobed giving them a fern-like appearance. All are covered, top and bottom, with short hairs. They are darker green on top and pale green on the bottom where the leaf stalk shows as a prominent midvein.
Stem: Slender, round, ridged, green, hairy stems can reach three feet. They have a few branches. The hairs are white and short.
Root: There is an annual taproot.
Fruit: Sometimes called beggar lice, each flower forms a single football-shaped seed covered with bristles. These are reddish, then turn brown. The bristles adhere to clothing and hair.
Habitat: This plant likes sunny, disturbed areas commonly along roadsides.
Hedge Parsley blooms alongside Queen Anne’s Lace on roadsides. Both have umbels of white flowers. The umbels are different.
Hedge Parsley umbels have separate flower units. They are smaller. They remain spread open as the seeds replace the flowers. The seeds are in the same separate units as the flowers were.
As the seeds mature, the lower leaves yellow and wither. By the time all of the flowers have become seeds, the stems are turning brown and hard. The plant becomes a brown, brittle stalk topped by brown burs.
The seeds are sometimes referred to as beggar lice. The bristles surrounding the seeds are not hooked but still catch on any passing clothing or animal. Hair gets wrapped into the bristles making removal slow and tedious.
Originally from Eurasia, Hedge Parsley has spread widely. Each plant produces dozens of seeds that are carried off or fall to seed a colony of plants the next year.
Essays about the plants and animals of the Ozarks can be found in Exploring the Ozark Hills.