In the summer, few wild flowers appear to be more common than Queen Anne’s lace. Small explosions of tiny white blossoms top slender green stalks of these delicate plants named for England’s Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714. The name suits the delicate appearance—and certainly sounds better than what the plant really is, which is simply a wild carrot. And not just a wild carrot, but a domestic carrot gone feral, because the Americas had no carrots before English gardeners brought along their cultivated varieties. So these are escapees and aliens. But that means that, while a few seeds snuck out of the garden and reverted to an original wild type, even our domestic carrots are introduced plants.
The carrot as we know it is a native of Afghanistan, where evidence shows it was growing as early as 5,000 years ago. I say, “as we know it,” because these were domesticated carrots—where the first wild carrot arose is not so clear. Wild carrots, with short, skinny, acrid-tasting roots, were fairly widespread long before people were keeping track of what they were trading with their neighbors, appearing in much of West Asia and Europe. Traces of wild carrot seed have been found at prehistoric sites in Switzerland, and wild carrots were listed among the plants grown in the royal gardens of Babylon. But it appears that the wild carrot was grown for its seeds or leaves, which were used as medicines and seasonings. Though domesticating the carrot is relatively easy, with the root getting larger within a few generations, it seems it just didn’t occur to anyone west of Afghanistan to make the attempt. Continue reading