This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Small, of unequal sizes (polygamous), white, rarely pinkish gray, 5-parted, in a compound, flat, circular umbel, the central floret often dark crimson; the umbels very concave in fruit. An involucre of narrow, pinnately cut bracts. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, with stiff hairs; from a deep, fleshy, conic root. Leaves: Cut into fine, fringy divisions; upper ones smaller and less dissected.
Preferred Habitat - Waste lands, fields, roadsides.
Flowering Season - June - September.
Distribution - Eastern half of United States and Canada. Europe and Asia.
A pest to farmers, a joy to the flower-lover, and a welcome signal for refreshment to hosts of flies, beetles, bees, and wasps, especially to the paper-nest builders, the sprangly wild carrot lifts its fringy foliage and exquisite lacy blossoms above the dry soil of three continents. From Europe it has come to spread its delicate wheels over our summer landscape, until whole fields are whitened by them east of the Mississippi. Having proved fittest in the struggle for survival in the fiercer competition of plants in the over-cultivated Old World, it takes its course of empire westward year by year, finding most favorable conditions for colonizing in our vast, uncultivated area; and the less aggressive, native occupants of our soil are only too readily crowded out. Would that the advocates of unrestricted immigration of foreign peasants studied the parallel examples among floral invaders!
What is the secret of the wild carrots' triumphal march? As usual, it is to be sought chiefly in the flower's scheme to attract and utilize visitors. Nectar being secreted in open disks near to one another, the shortest-tongued insects can lick it up from the Umbelliferae with even less loss of time than from the tubular florets of the Compositae. Over sixty distinct species of insects may be taken on the wild carrot by any amateur, since it blooms while insect life is at its height; but, as might be expected, the long-tongued and color-loving, specialized bees and butterflies do not often waste time on florets so easily drained by the mob.
Wild Carrot, Or Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus Carota)
Ants find the stiff hairs on the stem disagreeable obstacles to pilfering; but no visitors seem to object to the flowers' suffocating odor.
One of these lacy, white umbels must be examined under a lens before its delicate structure and perfection of detail can be appreciated. Naturally a visitor is attracted first by the largest, most showy florets situated around the outer edge of the wheel, on which he leaves pollen, brought from another umbel; and any vitalizing dust remaining on his under side may be left on the less conspicuous hermaphrodite blossoms as he makes his way toward the centre, where the tiny, pollen-bearing florets are grouped. From the latter, as he flies away, he will carry fresh pollen to the outer row of florets on another umbel, and so on - at least this is the usual and highly advantageous method. After general fertilization, the slender flower-stalks curl inward, and the umbel forms a hollow nest that gradually contracts as it dries, almost, if not quite, closing at the top, albeit the fiction that bees and spiders make their home in the seeding umbels circulates freely.
Still another fiction is that the cultivated carrot, introduced to England by the Dutch in Queen Elizabeth's reign, was derived from this wild species. Miller, the celebrated English botanist and gardener, among many others, has disproved this statement by utterly failing again and again to produce an edible vegetable from this wild root. When cultivation of the garden carrot lapses for a few generations, it reverts to the ancestral type - a species quite distinct from Daucus Carota.