We know botanists love to play around with plant names and recently there seem so many cases of this happening. Sometimes it seems to make sense, but why oh why did they change the plant family name of the umbels from “Umbellifer” to “Apiacea”? The original name reflected the character of these plants so well. They simply do look like umbrellas don’t they? Their inflorescences are usually scented and most definitely umbrella-shaped.
So many of this family we know as aids to our cookery – carrot, parsley, cumin, coriander, parsnip – a varied lot of vegetables and herbs. Just let some go to seed and watch them perform!
At Chelsea this year a flowering parsnip starred in Cleve West’s Gold Medal winning garden which was also rightly awarded “Best in Show”. He had dug it up from his allotment.
Today the brightest flowers in the back garden here are the fennel, its myriad minute acid yellow inflorescences held in umbrellas above the finest green lace of its foliage. Perhaps known best for its culinary value, it is also a brilliant border plant with its mouth-watering scent reminiscent of aniseed balls and its flocks of hoverflies in attendance. The magnetic attraction it holds for these insects make it a valuable garden companion – a living pesticide, for hoverflies and their larvae are predators of the highest calibre. Our fennel has self-seeded alongside the central path and is so large it looks down on its neighbour, a Mahonia japonica.
Another self-seeding umbel in our patch is the Cow Parsley. In the wild it appears as a thug growing in masses along roadsides where its sweetest of scents permeates our cars. However in the mixed garden border it certainly doesn’t deserve being served up with an asbo as one might imagine for it becomes a small delicate plant easily threatened by its neighbours. It seems to be that its smaller stature is due to this dislike of being crowded by neighbouring plants. It was interesting to see Monty Don showing Cow Parsley growing in his borders on Gardeners World a few weeks back.
The purple-black foliage cultivar “Ravenswing” is a real asset to any garden and its delicacy of stature and colour live comfortably alongside many neighbours. Ours look particularly good early on in the summer with another “apiacea” family members Astrantia “Hadspens Blood” and “Ruby Wedding”.
Now I must go and find out why the family of umbrella-like plants are now called “apiacea”.