Goutweed is a popular groundcover that has gone native. It likes shade and damp areas, and it can take over large tracts of wet forest. The compound umbels (that is, flat-topped clusters of flat-topped clusters) of flowers will remind you of its relative Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota); the leaves bear a superficial resemblance to elderberry leaves, and the flower umbels to elderberry umbels, whence Goutweed is also known as Ground Elder. It blooms in late spring. Some of the plants in these pictures were found in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon, and the others in West End Park.
The plants are similar to Spotted Cowbane (Cicuta maculata), and Father Pitt has misidentified them in the past. Here are differences to look for:
Spotted Cowbane has purplish stems or stems “streaked with purple” (says Gray); Goutweed has green stems.
The stalks of Spotted Cowbane are fatter than the stalks of Goutweed.
The flower clusters or “compound umbels” of Spotted Cowbane are more numerous and sloppier (“pedicels very unequal”) than the compound umbels of Goutweed.
Finally, Goutweed tends to grow in large and dense colonies, which is why it was popular as a ground cover.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
AEGOPÔDIUM L. GOUTWEED. Fruit ovate, glabrous, with equal filiform ribs, and no oil-tubes; stylopodium conical and prominent; seed nearly terete. — A coarse glabrous perennial, with creeping rootstock, sharply toothed ovate leaflets, and rather large naked umbels of white flowers. (Name from aix, goat, and podion, a little foot, probably from the shape of the leaflets.)
A. podagrària L. —Waste-heaps, etc., e. Mass. to Del. (Adv. from Eu.) [It has since spread further, mostly by escaping from gardens.]
It’s harder than it ought to be to find information about this species: many standard wildflower books skip it, but it is abundant in Frick Park, where it forms huge colonies. These plants were blooming in late May. Greenish-yellow flowers with very long (in proportion to the flower) stamens and lower leaves with five roughly equal leaflets are distinguishing marks. Other species of Black Snakeroot around here have white flowers and compound leaves with the lower pair of leaflets split almost to the base.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
SANÍCULA [Tourn.] L. SANICLE. BLACK SNAKEROOT. Calyx-teeth manifest, persistent. Fruit globular; the carpels not separating spontaneously, ribless, thickly clothed with hooked prickles. — Perennial rather tall glabrous herbs, with few palmately lobed or parted leaves, those from the base long-petioled. Umbels irregular or com pound, the flowers (greenish or yellowish) capitate in the umbellets, perfect, and with staminate ones intermixed. Involucre and involucels few-leaved. (Name said to be from sanare, to heal; or perhaps from San Nicolas.)
Styles much exceeding the bristles of the fruit, recurved.
S. gregària Bicknell. Stem slender, 6 dm. high; leaves 5-foliolate; leaflets obovate, cleft and serrate; fruit only 3-4(-6) mm. long, somewhat stipitate. — Rich woods, St. John Valley, N. В.; s. N. H. to Minn., Ark., and Ga.
A small relative of Queen Anne’s Lace, this one grows in the woods and bears its few-flowered umbels in spring. This plant was growing along the Trillium Trail, Fox Chapel, where it was blooming in the middle of May. The fern-like leaves are distinctive. A similar species, O. longistylis, is not hairy, and thus easy to distinguish.
Gray describes the genus and the species (which he spells Claytoni):
OSMORHÏZA Raf. SWEET CICELY. Calyx-teeth obsolete. Fruit with prominent caudate attenuation at base, and equal ribs. — Glabrous to hirsute perennials with thick aromatic roots, ternately compound leaves, ovate variously toothed leaflets, few-leaved in volucres, and white flowers in few-rayed and few-fruited umbels. (Name from osme, a scent, and rhiza, a root.) Washingtonia Raf.
O. Claytoni (Michx.) Clarke. Stems rather slender, 8-9 dm. high, vinous-pubescent; leaves <2-3-ternate, crisp-hairy; leaflets mostly 4-7 cm. long, acuminate, crenate-dentate and somewhat cleft; stipules ciliate-hispid; fruit (not including the attenuate base) 1-1.8 cm. long; stylopodium and style 0.7-1 mm. long. (O. brevistylis DC; Washingtonia Claytoni Britton.) — Open woods, e. Que. to w. Ont., s. to N. С, Ala., Mo., and Kan.
Also known as Early Meadow Parsnip, this is like a cheery golden Queen Anne’s Lace, with similar compound umbels of flowers, more delicate than the similarly yellow Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa). It likes a damp open woods or meadow; these were growing in Frick Park, where they were blooming in early May.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ZIZIA Koch. Calyx-teeth prominent. Fruit ovate to oblong, glabrous, with filiform ribs. Oil-tubes large and solitary in the broad intervals, and a small one in each rib; stylopodium wanting; seed terete. —Smooth perennials, with mostly Thaspium-like leaves, no involucre, involucels of small bractlets, yellow flowers, and the central fruit of each umbellet sessile. Flowering in spring. (Named for I. B. Ziz, a Rhenish botanist.)
Z. aúrea (L.) Koch. (GOLDEN ALEXANDERS.) Leaves(except the uppermost) 2-3-ternate, the radical very long-petioled; leaflets ovate to lanceolate, sharply serrate, acuminate; rays 15-25, stout, 2-5 cm. long; fruit oblong, about 4 mm. long. — River-banks, meadows,and rich woods, e. Que. to Sask., s. to Va., Ark., and Tex.
In Our Common Wild Flowers of Springtime and Autumn, Alice Mary Dowd describes the plant briefly, and also gives us a brief explanation of the word “umbel”:
Not far from the wood betony, on the same grassy slope, and blossoming at the same time, we may find the early meadow parsnip, sometimes called golden Alexanders. It is a common plant everywhere from Maine to South Dakota. The leaves are twice or three times divided at the base, and have long stems. The small, golden yellow flowers are in little radiating clusters. A flower-cluster in which the stems radiate from the end of the main stem, like the ribs of an umbrella turned wrong side out, is called an umbel. If the radiating stems end in little umbels instead of single flowers the whole cluster is a compound umbel. The words umbel and umbrella both come from the Latin word for shade.
Alphonso Wood, in his Class-Book of Botany, uses this plant (which he places in the genus Carum) as one of his botanical lessons:
Description.—The humid river-banks, the meadows behind them, and even the sunny hills above them, are frequently bedecked in June or May, with bright yellow umbels, which, with little discrimination, the country people call Golden Alexanders. We will suppose that our young botanists return from their morning rambles equipped with these plants complete—root, leaf, flower and fruit.
Analysis.—The Leaf Region.—After the lesson on the Cicely, the student will see in this plant striking analogies, with special differences. Both are to be carefully noted. The root is perennial, axial, branching, more woody than fleshy, from which annually arises a plant glabrous (smooth) and polished. The stems throughout are jointed, branching, with long, hollow internodes as in Cicely. The leaves are ternate and biternate, the lower on long petioles and sometimes pinnately 5-foliate, the very lowest being simple and cordate. The student will compare the leaflets with those of Cicely, and note their form of outline, base, apex, and margin. The petioles are sheathing and stem-clasping at the base, as in that plant.
The Flower Region.—The umbels are axillary and terminal.* Are they simple or compound? Do you find any involucre and involucels? Of what description? The flowers are 5-parted. Here also the calyx consists of a tube adhering to the ovary, with the limb or teeth obsolete. Each of the 5 yellow petals has its slender point inflexed, with the 5 stamens in like manner inflected. The ovary is inferior— placed below the flower and crowned by it, in consequence of being immersed in and adherent to the tubular calyx. The 2 styles are slender, longer than the ovary, and deciduous, for they are not seen on the full-grown fruit.
The Fruit is a cremocarp as in Osmorhiza, but with several remarkable differences. It is oval inclined to oblong, flattened on the sides. When the carpels separate, they show the forked carpophore between them. Each carpel has 5 conspicuous, equal, wavy ribs, 2 of which are marginal, i. e., on the border of the face or commissure. In each interval between the ribs is an oil tube—an oblong cell containing a fragrant oil. Botanists call these oil-tubes vittae. None are found in the fruits of Osmorhiza.
* Plants in which the inflorescence is arranged in a cyme, corymb, &c, may be termed the “Social Flowers.” Small flowers thus packed closely together are necessarily more attractive to insects than if they were scattered promiscuously over the plant. Besides, these groups of flowers are generally placed where they are not hidden by the leaves. So that one can but feel that this floral arrangement is not an accident, but designed for a purpose. Self-fertilization is guarded against in these masses of small flowers by the stamens ripening before the pistils. The former shed their pollen and wither before the latter have developed sufficiently to receive the pollen. Sir John Lubbock remarks that the honey in the flowers of this order is Inaccessible to butterflies, whose probosces are fitted for deep-throated flowers; but it is easily reached by other insects.
The Name in Latin is Carum aureum. It is associated with Caraway (Carum Carvi) whose native country is Caria in Asia Minor; hence the name. The specific term, aureum, means golden. Other plants called also Golden Alexanders, with yellow umbels in June, may perplex the student. One such, C. cordatum, is smooth all over like C. aureum, but its root-leaves are generally cordate and simple, and the stemleaves never biternate.
This is actually the same plant as the garden parsnip, though not bred for flavor. It is often found on roadsides and at the edge of the woods, frequently growing almost as tall as a person. These were growing in a clearing in Schenley Park, where they were blooming in early June. The combination of tall, thick stems and broad compound umbels of yellow flowers is distinctive; Golden Alexanders, another member of the same family with yellow flowers, is a much more delicate plant.
Gray describes the genus and the species.
PASTINÀCA L. PARSNIP. Calyx-teeth obsolete. Fruit oval, very much flattened dorsally; dorsal ribs filiform, the lateral extended into broad wings, which are strongly nerved toward the outer margin; oil-tubes small, solitary in the intervals, 2-4 on the commissure; stylopodium depressed. — Tall stout glabrous biennial, with pinnately compound leaves, mostly no involucre or involucels, and yellow flowers. (The Latin name, from pastus. food.)
P. satìva L. Stem grooved; leaflets ovate to oblong, cut-toothed. — Waste places, open rich soil, etc. (Nat. from Eu.)