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Cambridge Milk-Parsley

Selinum carvifolia

  • Name also: Little-leaf Angelica (USA)
  • Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 30–80 cm (12–32 in.). Stem bristly, narrowly winged, almost glabrous, full.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), white, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) broad; petals 5, notched, tip curved inwards. Sepals lacking. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a compound umbel, secondary umbels 10–20. Primary umbel usually without bracts, secondary umbels’ bracteoles linear.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, sheath short. Blade ovate–narrowly triangular, 2–3 times pinnate. Leaflets lobed, tips white, bristle-like.
  • Fruit: Egg-shaped, back flat, 2-sectioned schizocarp, edge broad winged, side narrow-winged.
  • Habitat: Sea-shore meadows, wooded meadows, banks, meadows.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Genus Selinum is perhaps easiest to recognise from the narrowly winged angularity of its stems. Its scientific name comes from the old Greek plant name sélinon, which referred to Carrot family plants that were used in garlands and wreaths. Plants in this family often resemble each other, and laymen might view their division into different genera as rather arbitrary. For instance, genus Selinum has much in common with genus Angelica. Linné originally included milk-parsley (Peucedanum palustre) in genus Selinum, and it certainly looks the part. There are clear differences, however – apart from the angularity of genus Selinum stems, the tips of the leaf lobes are pale, while milk-parsley’s are dark. Its main series of bracts drop off early while milk-parsley’s usually remain. Defining these plants takes a great deal of skill because they can grow side by side. Little-leaf angelica and milk-parsley demand quite similar habitats, although little-leaf angelica thrives in perhaps slightly drier places.

Little-leaf angelica grows in the south of Finland on the Åland Islands and along the Gulf of Finland coast, but it is strangely absent from the south-western archipelago. Inland it grows as a legacy from the warm spell that followed the Ice Age in Uusimaa along what would have been the ancient coast of the Ancylus Lake, which still exists in a smaller form as the Baltic Sea. At its peak it was up to 150 metres (165 yards) deeper than it is now, and the Nordic countries looked completely different. The land has since been constantly rising and the coast has moved a long way from little-leaf angelica’s habitat, but the species has been unable to colonise this new area. There is a large gap between coastal and inland stands – in recent times the gap has actually begun to shrink due to coastal stands spreading towards inland ones.

Other species from the same family

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