The descriptive word umbellifer is derived from the Latin word umbrella which means a sunshade or parasol. The flowers called umbels are held up by ribs like those on an umbrella. Plants in this family generally have hollow, ribbed stems and divided leaves. The roots of some members of the family such as carrot and parsnip are eaten. In contrast, the stems of celery are eaten. One very poisonous member of this family is Hemlock which has blotched purple stems.
Growing to 75cm in height, the lace-like Wild carrot (Daucus carota) or Mealbhacán in Irish is common now on road verges, grasslands, wastelands, wild meadows and coastal cliffs (1a). The carrot which we eat is descended from this plant. (1b) Unlike most umbellifers, this plant has a solid stem (1c). Like a lot of umbellifers, the stem is grooved to channel water down to the roots. Underneath the large, domed flower structure or umbel which is white or pinkish white is a circle of green bracts which hang slightly downwards (1d). They look like gate spikes. Because of its abundant nectar supplies it attracts a wide variety of insects and so is a useful plant for enhancing biodiversity.
Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) or Gallfheabhrán in Irish is abundant now in damp places. It grows to a height of 125 cm which is taller than Wild carrot (2a). Unlike the stem of the latter, this plant’s stem is thick, hollow and smooth (2b). It harbours copious amount of nectar and is visited by a wide variety of insects. It was used for curing many ailments in the past. (2c)
Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) or Feabhrán in Irish also belongs to the umbellifer family (3a). This can reach heights of two to three metres. Its stems are grooved and hollow and contain juice which can blister skin. The deeply divided leaves, however, are different than those of the two above (3b).