There are rather few genera of native Tasmanian plants that share the same genus as the common economic food plants we see in the market everyday. Some examples might come as a surprise however. For instance, Tasmania has one native plant which is a close relative of the CARROT!
The carrot of commerce is botanically known as Daucus carota spp. sativa. In the wild, the species is often referred to as Wild Carrot or Queen Annes Lace. The carrot belongs to the Celery family (Apiaceae), a large botanical family which also includes many plants which will immediately be familiar to the general public, eg fennel, parsley, parsnip, pennyworts, caraway and even hemlock, the source of the poison that killed the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. While the carrot is probably one of the most well known, the genus Daucus actually consists of some 60 species worldwide.
When I saw Tasmania’s answer to the fleshy and succulent carrot of commerce I was pretty amused. This was a small grassland herb, the Australian Carrot (Daucus glocidiatus), which would easily be overlooked as some inconspicuous weed.
Unlike the Wild Carrot, with numerous flowers in showy umbels, the Australian Carrot has a few inconspicuous whistish-pinkish flowers borne on an irregular umbel.
I try not to pick entire plants if I can help it (pretty wimpy for a botanist I know) but I couldn’t help it when it came to this little herb. I just had to check out it’s subterranean parts to see if there was anything carrot-like about this curious little herb.
Turns out that the Australian Carrot does have a taproot but nothing that a bunny would pause at to consider. The affinity of the Australian Carrot to the carrot of commerce had to lie somewhere else.
In the field this little herb is rather easy to identify. Few other native grassland herbs have such finely dissected pinnate leaves. In particular, the small bristly fruits make it instantly recognizable.
And indeed, it is probably the fruits that betray the affinity of the Australian Carrot to the carrot of commerce. In both species the fruits are bristly. In the Australian Carrot, the bristles on the fruits are barbed, as alluded to by the specific epithet ‘glochidiatus‘, which means barbed fruit.
In European herbal lore, the seeds of the Wild Carrot is known to have contraceptive properties (see webpage). If we were to make some extrapolations and speculate, could not the seeds of the Australian Carrot also be used for similar purposes? There certainly is the potential for such medicinal research on native plants.