Freitag, 9. August 2013

Plant of the Day (August 9th, 2013) - Daucus carota ssp. carota L.

Like H. sphondylium, today's “Plant of the Day” is also a member of the Apiaceae family. This species is Daucus carota L.; known as “Wilde Möhre” in Germany and as “Wild Carrot” or “bishop's lace” in English. However, there are also some important sub-species of D. carota

  • Daucus carota ssp carota: Wild carrot
  • Daucus carota ssp. sativa: Cultured carrot (the vegetable)
  • Daucus carota ssp maximus: Giant carrot
  • Daucus carota ssp carota: Black carrot

This article is about D. carota ssp. Carota. For simplicity, I will call it D. carota.

1) Description

D. carota is a biennial plant, which can reach heights between 20 and 100 centimeters (8.0 to 39.5 inches). Its a deep-rooting plant, which is anchored in the ground by a long main-root. Together with the hypocotyl (the part of the shoot between the root and the first leaves), the root forms a thick and long bulb: the carrot.

D. carota - habitus

In contrast to the cultured carrot; the bulb of D. carota isn't orange, because the concentration of Carotene is much lower than in the cultured sub-species. In nature, the bulb acts as a reservoir for nutrients.

 D. carota - leaf

The grey-green leaves are double or triple pinnate, while the stalk is covered with some bristles. The bracts of the Invulucrum are also pinnate but very narrow. As a result, the bracts look a little bit fibrous or frayed. 

  D. carota - stalk with bristles

As an Apiaceae, the inflorescence of D. carota is a umbel, which consists of many smaller sub-umbels (between 15 and 50 per umbel). In contrast to other plants from the Apiaceae (like H. sphondylium), the inflorescence is nearly flat and only slightly curved.

 D. carota - invulucrum
 
Each of the smaller umbels consists of small flowers with white petals. However, one flower of the central umbel (in the center of the whole inflorescence) is deep purple to nearly black. This is a distinctive feature of the species and makes it easy to distinguish D. carota from other Apiaceae (but be careful: in some rare cases, the black central flower is missing).

  D. carota - inflorescence with black flower in the center
(red circle). It works, because a fly is on the flowers
 (green circle)

With this black flower, the plant simulates the presence of an insect, because the flower looks a little bit like a fly. Thereby, other insects (potential pollinators) are attracted, because they prefer plants, which are already visited by other insects. Flowering time is between June and September.

 D. carota - the unique, black flower in the center

After successful pollination, the whole umbel contracts and forms a distinctive, nest-like structure, which unfolds when becoming wet. The ripe fruits are Achenes (double fruits), with four rows of spikes per single fruit (totally eight).

2) Distribution

D. carota is native to the temperate regions of Eurasia and North Africa but can also be found in other parts of the world as Neophyte. It's very common in the lowlands and prefers fresh, nutrient-rich places to grow. As a synanthropic, it benefits from anthropogenic influence and can be found on pastures, meadows but also on ruderal wastelands and along creeks and ditches.

 D. carota - habitus

The species is one primogenitor of the cultivated Carrot, which is the result of a cross-breeding between D. carota ssp. carota and the Black Carrot (Daucus carota ssp. afghanicus), which is native to the orient.

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