The genus Pastinaca Linnaeus and Pastinaca sativa Linnaeus

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.

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The genus Pastinaca Linnaeus

The genus Pastinaca is a small, comprising about 15 taxa. It is native to Eurasia. The species belonging to the genus are perennial or biennial herbs usually with a taproot. Their leaves are usually pinnate with broad leaflets; the leaves or leaflets are toothed to deeply lobed; the petiole of the leaves are sheating. The flowers are in a terminal or axillary inflorescence, a compound umbel with few rays; the flowers are hermaphrodite, yellow or red. The petals have an inrolled apex. The fruits are ellipsoid to obovate.

Only one species belonging to the Pastinaca genus is found in North America, Pastinaca sativa; botanists split the species in three subspecies:

and only one subspecies is found in North America, Pastinaca sativa subsp. sylvestris.

The Pastinaca genus belongs to the Apiaceae family.

Pastinaca sativa Linnaeus

Pastinaca sativa is a stout, erect, leafy-stemmed, aromatic biennial that grows from a stout and long taproot; it has a ridged stem that is from 2 to 5 feet tall. The first year plants only have a basal rosette rosette of leaves and a large edible taproot. During the second year, it produces erect stems that terminate in umbrella-shaped clusters of small yellow flowers. IN North Maerica, it is an introduced, naturalized and ecologically invasive plant.


In Latin, the word pastinaca is referred to by Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder), 23 AD - 70 AD (he died on August 25, AD 70 during the famed eruption of Mount Vesuvius that also destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum); he was a naturalist and naval and military commander; he refers to the plant Cicuta in his Naturalis Historia (Natural History) (25, 42) and has been identified as either Pastinaca sativa or Daucus carota (the Carrot). The text by Pliny is:

Si iam maxime tertium genus facere libeat, est simile staphylino, quod pastinacam erraticam appellant, semine blongo, radice dulci. omnia haec et hieme et aestate sunt intacta quadripedi nisi post abortus. ex aliis usus seminis, ex Cretico radicis et magis ad serpentes. bibitur e vino drachma una, datur et quadripedibus percussis.

The text translates to:

If it is considered really desirable to recognize a third variety of the daucus, there is a plant4 of this nature very similar to the staphylinos, known as the "pastinaca erratica," with an oblong seed and a sweet root. Quadrupeds will touch none of these plants, either in winter or in summer, except indeed, after abortion. The seed of the various kinds is used, with the exception of that of Crete, in which case it is the root that is employed; this root being particularly useful for the stings of serpents. The proper dose is one drachma, taken in wine. It is administered also to cattle when stung by those reptiles.

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(I'm pretty sure that most humans and animals must have died in spite of the drachma taken in wine, those that survived being those stung by a non venomous reptile !)

In Latin, the adjective sativus means sown, cultivated, the epithet being a reference to the fact that the Parsnip is nothing else than a cultivated Pastinaca sativa.

Common names

The vernacular name of Pastinaca sativa is Parsnip and eventually Wild Parsnip. Some of its French vernacular names are Panais, Racine Blanche, Grand Chervi, Pastenade, Panet.


Pastinaca sativa has also been known as Pastinaca sativa L. var. pratensis Pers.


Pastinaca sativa is distinguished from other species in the Apiaceae family by its :

When not in bloom, it may be confused with Conium maculatum, but the later grows in wet habitats while the former prefers drier soils. It may also be confused with Daucus carota that has the same habitat but is a smaller plant and has leaves more finely divided.




The caterpillars of the butterfly Papilio polyxenes asterias (Black Swallowtail) feed on the foliage.


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Pastinaca sativa reproduces readily from seed; the seeds take at least three weeks from flowering to become viable.


Pastinaca sativa thrives when growing in rich, alkaline, dry to moist soils, in sunny areas (it is shade-intolerant); it can survive under almost any conditions. It commonly can be found along roadsides, in pastures, in disturbed sites and in old fields.


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Pastinaca sativa is native in western Asia and Siberia, as well as in most of Europe. It was introduced into North America as a root crop, and escaped from cultivation, and naturalized; it is common in most of Canada and the USA; as an introduced plant, is also found in South America, in South Africa, , in temperate Asia, in Australia and New Zealand. The map shows the Canadian provinces and territory as well as the USA states where the plant can be found.


Picking of Pastinaca sativa, as is the case with other species of the Apiaceae family that also contain furocoumarins may cause phytophotodermatitis in some individuals, since the sap of the plant reacts with sunlight, causing irritation, blistering and skin discoloration. The photosensitivity can last for months but can be mitigated by sunscreen. Exposure to leaves, stems, and peeling roots can cause the problem. The edible roots contain enough furocoumarins to be physiologically active in some cases. These toxins are mutagenic (even in the dark) inducing melanization in human skin. Photodermatitis from this plant is often confused with Toxicodendron radicans (Poison-ivy) dermatitis.

The seeds of Pastinaca sativa also contain furocoumarins. The roots contain xanthotoxin, which is used in the treatment of psoriasis and vitiligo. Xanthotoxin is the substance that causes photosensitivity. The leaves and the roots are used to make an insect spray.

Pastinaca sativa is among the most ancient of cultivated vegetables. The edible roots were consumed in ancient Greece and Rome and cultivars are still grown for food today. The earliest evidence of its consumption dates from the end of the Mesolithic era, approximately 2000 BC. Cultivated Pastinaca sativa seem to have originated in Syria; the earliest written reference to the plant, by Pliny the Elder, refers to it in that area. In fact, Daucus carota, the Carrot and Pastinaca sativa, the Parsnip, remained confused in most manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

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Until the potato arrived from the New World, its place in dishes was occupied by Pastinaca sativa and other root vegetables such as the turnip and carrot. It was commonly used by the Romans, and, when their Empire expanded north through Europe, they brought the plant with them, founding that it grew bigger the further north they went.

Irish beer is often made from the roots of Pastinaca sativa boiled in water with hops.

Pastinaca sativa is richer in vitamins and minerals than the carrot. It is particularly rich in potassium with 600 mg per 100 g. It is also a good source of dietary fiber.

Well-established prairies are not likely to be invaded by Pastinaca sativa, but it can become quite abundant on prairie edges and in disturbed patches within otherwise high-quality prairies. Once established at the edges, parsnip can spread into adjacent high-quality areas. It is considered a noxious weed in some USA states.

The Cherokees used the plant as an analgesic for sharp pains. The Iroquois used it as dermatological aid, they made a compound decoction used as a wash or a poultice and applied it to chancres or lumps on penis. The Ojibwas used it as gynecological aid; they made a compound infusion of minute quantity of root and women took it for female troubles. The Paiutes used Pastinaca sativa as a tuberculosis remedy. The Potawatomis also used the plant as dermatological aid, applying a poultice to inflammation and sores and considered the plant as poisonous when taken internally.


The photos of the gallery were taken either with one of the following: Minolta DiMAGE 7, Canon PowerShot A530, Canon Xt Rebel, usually with the EF-S60mm f/2.8 Macro USM objective, Fujifilm A 610 and EPSON Perfection 1650 (scanner).

The title in the window shows the date when the picture was taken, i.e. jan_30_06... would mean that the photo was taken on the 30th of January, the 06 is for the 6th picture taken that day. The month, day and picture number might be followed by a letter which I use to identify the system used to take the picture.

Click on the thumbnails to get larger view. The original photos are usually in TIFF format, the photos shown are generally in JPEG format, often of dimensions one half (surface one quarter) for loading time reduction.

Plants, stems

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