The Five-Year Plant ID

This may shock you but I’m a bit of a plant nerd.  From the very first hummingbird sage that I beheld seven years ago, I knew I wanted to learn each and every plant from the mightiest bay laurel to the wispiest fescue.  That being said, I get a mite distressed when a plant eludes my questionable identification skills.

Although I hate to pick favorites, the Wills-Rice Canyon loop on the Ventura River Preserve is up there near the top.  I especially enjoy the dark shadowy serenity of the deep-forest portions of the hike.  Under the oaks, beside the snowberry and the poison oaks are  two members of the Apiaceae, or carrot family.

Mystery Apiaceae

Mystery Apiaceae

How do I know carrot family?  Well if you’ve ever purchased or grown carrot, celery, or fennel, you know the lacy green foliage which you throw in with the compostables.  Add in the flowering “umbels” and you’ve got Apiaceae.

The first one took me a few years to identify as Pacific Sanicle.

Pacific sanicle

Pacific sanicle

The rounded leaves with tall stalks of indistinct yellow flowers which turn into naughty little burrs which always find their way into Luke’s fur.  The second was more vexing.  My favorite plant ID website was little help.  Maybe wild carrot or celery?

Wild celery

Wild celery

Bur chervil?

Bur chervil

Bur chervil

Rattlesnake weed?

Rattlesnake weed

Rattlesnake weed

All close cousins but not a match.

I even paid a visit to local guru David Magney.  He had some guesses but refused to give a definitive answer until he had a look at the inflorescence and fruit.

Well this week I finally got to see one in bloom, and another which had already gone to seed and everything fell into place.

The pods which solved everything

The pods which solved everything

Either the Santa Monica Mountain website recently did some updates, or I just never noticed the answer right in front of me:

Mystery Apiaceae

Osmorhiza brachypoda

Its native and it even has a pretty name, Sweet Cicely.  I think I may have dated a sweet Cicely in high school.  Blooms are actually quite pretty up close.

Sweet cicely bloom closeup

Sweet cicely bloom closeup

So the lesson here is perseverance and continual observation.

On a side note, if there are any wooly blue curls fiends like me, the show has begun on the Oso Ridge trail.

wooly

I was up there today and they are just starting to explode, virtually a whole 10th of a mile of wooly blues on both sides just reaching out and trying to grab you.

Wooly Blues

Wooly Blues

It is not an easy hike, over seven miles total but for me it was worth it.  You have a few weeks so get up there if you can.

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7 Responses to The Five-Year Plant ID

  1. lanny@herbwalks.com says:

    Ah, Sweet Cicely. I hope you didn’t lose sleep over it. One of my favorites of the Carrot family. It grows in Sisar Canyon but I hadn’t seen it in Wills. Thanks for the heads-up. It’s been widely used by Native American and modern herbalists. The root has a not-unpleasant fennel-like taste though, of course, I wouldn’t advocate digging one up around here. Pacific Sanicle is quite common around here and considered poisonous. You are wise to be wary around that family. They are tricky and I do not claim to be an expert on all of the various permutations.

    • ojairambler says:

      Thanks Lannster, any interesting Native American uses that might be of interest? Sustenance only or are there some medicinal uses?

      On Fri, Apr 3, 2015 at 8:44 AM, The Ojai Rambler wrote:

      >

      • lanny@herbwalks.com says:

        Mainly medicinal, not for food. Like its relative Chuchupate (Lomatium) it was chewed as a kind of spiritual tonic, if you will, and as a love potion, considered by some a panacea, similar to how Ginseng is used in Asia. It was also chewed for sore throats, colds, etc, and used as a flavoring for other medicines. Modern herbalists like Michael Moore use a tincture taken internally for its anti-fungal properties to treat Candida infections. Our local species is not as potent as the one mostly used.

  2. Jerry Jones says:

    Great post! I always thought the sweet Cicely (thanks now I know it’s name) looked a lot like cilantro or Italian parsley. I must admit though, I did taste a very tiny bit and realized that it was not something that I’d want to add to my herb garden.

    • ojairambler says:

      Hey Jerry! Happy to have you aboard, thanks for the comment… Sooo, sweet cicely not that sweet then I guess

      • lanny@herbwalks.com says:

        The root really isn’t half bad but still more medicinal than edible. The leaves are not edible. I made the mistake of trying to eat a fairly large, prickly green seed once and it did exactly what it was supposed to do: crawl down my throat, fast! Pretty scary for a few seconds there before I was able to violently cough it up. The trials and tribulations of a forager.

      • Jerry says:

        Thanks Ron! Great to finally get on so I can comment rather than observe from the sidelines. Really enjoy learning the names of these plants I see everyday. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

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