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Japanese Hedge Parsley

Torilis japonica

  • Name also: Upright Hedge-parsley, Erect Hedgeparsley
  • Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
  • Growing form: Annual or occasionally biennial herb.
  • Height: 5–90 cm (2–35 in.). Stem rigid-hairy, full, reddish–purplish at least at base.
  • Flower: Corolla irregular (zygomorphic), white–light reddish, max. 5 mm (0.2 in.) wide; petals 5, deeply notched, tip turned inwards. Sepals 5, very small. Stamens 5. Gynoecium syncarpous, with 2 styles. Inflorescence a compound umbel (5–12). Primary umbel with not many bracts, possibly falling away after flowering, secondary umbels with many needle-like, rough bracteoles.
  • Leaves: Blade triangular, 1–3 times pinnate, terminal leaflet long and tapered. Leaflets lobed.
  • Fruit: Almost spherical, 2-sectioned, with arching spines, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long schizocarp.
  • Habitat: Hillside meadows, river banks, roadsides.
  • Flowering time: June–July.
  • Endangerment: Vulnerable, protected on the Åland Islands.

Japanese hedge parsley can be mistaken for a stunted cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) plant, even though the flowering plant’s petals are slightly reddish. They are even more likely to be confused when they aren’t flowering because the leaves are very similar, although Japanese hedge parsley’s are slightly smaller, usually with less leaflets, and are slightly greyish due to their abundant hair. Japanese hedge parsley’s purplish stem is also covered in short, downward-pointing hairs. Trying to see these with the naked eye is enough to make you cross-eyed – it’s a better idea to test it for roughness with your finger. Cow parsley’s stem is only hairy at the bottom. In the fruiting stage there is not so much danger of getting them mixed up: Japanese hedge parsley’s spherically elliptic fruit is covered in upwardly curving spines that attach to things, which is in sharp contrast to cow parsley’s smooth, elliptic fruit. The spines on Japanese hedge parsley’s fruit are like small fishing hooks and they stick fast to animals and people’s clothes, spreading the seed far from the mother plant.

Despite its Finnish local nickname, ‘pauper’s nit’, Japanese hedge parsley has hardly spread to Finland attached to beggars’ rags, although it does indeed cling to people. One side of the species’ habitat stretches from western Europe to Moscow and the Caucasus, while on the other hand it grows in the Far East, as its scientific name japonica suggests. Between these two areas the species is rare, in Finland too, growing only in a few places on the main and nearby islands of the Åland Islands on stony meadow slopes and roadsides, often close to habitation. It can grow flowering on shores, but only as a dwarf form up to 5 cm (2 in.) high.

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