Whorled Caraway - Carum verticillatum

Whorled Caraway is a member of the Apiaceae family, often referred to as Umbellifers because of their umbrella shaped flower heads. The family includes the ancestors of many of our favourite vegetables and herbs - parsnips, carrots, parsley, celery, fennel, coriander - but also includes the most poisonous plants in Europe, such as hemlock. They are considered fairly challenging to tell apart, but if you know what to look for, most of them are easy.

To identify an umbel to species level you need to note the following:

  • are the flowers white or yellow? (If they are yellow it narrows the choice of species down very considerably.)
  • are the stems hollow or solid?
  • are the stems spotted or tinged with red?
  • are the stems ridged or smooth?
  • are the stems hairy or hairless?
  • does the plant have a distinctive smell?
  • how divided are the leaves? Compare the leaf shape to illustrations in a field guide.
  • Compare the seed pods to illustrations in a field guide. The seed pods of different species are quite easy to distinguish from one another.
  • are there bracts (like small leaves) under the main or secondary umbels?

Scientific Name: Carum verticillatum (Apiaceae). Syn Trocdaris verticillatum.

English Name: Whorled Caraway (Umbellifer family).

French Name: Le Carvi verticellé.

5 Key Characters:
  • leaflets are fine green bristles which appear to be in about 20+ whorls up the erect leaf stem.
  • hairless.
  • stems hollow.
  • small umbels of flowers (2 - 5 cm across) with 8 - 12 rays.
  • many thin bracts and bracteoles.

Lookalikes: Ground-pine Ajuga reptans, which is lime-loving and ground hugging with leaves that are not so fine, flowers yellow; Mare's-tail Hippuris vulgaris, which is a much more robust plant, also lime-loving, more strictly aquatic and flowers tiny, green and inconspicuous; Yarrow Achillea millefolium, which has fine flat leaves, not in whorls around the stem.

Habitat: Damp acid meadows, marshes, streams and grassland.

Flowering Period: July-August.

Status: Localised (occuring on scattered sites throughout the area).

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

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