The family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferaea) Lindley

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

jul_02_04c.gthmb can't be loaded. The Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family (both names are allowed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature) is a family of usually aromatic plants with hollow stems, commonly known as umbellifers. The earlier Umbelliferae family name and the common umbellifers name derive from the inflorescence being generally in the form of a compound umbel, a word that has the same root as umbrella. The Apiaceae family was recognized as a distinctive group towards then end of the 16th century, making it one of the first families to be recognized as a distinct unit. It was also the first group of plants for which a systematic study has been published, this having been accomplished by Robert Morrison in 1672. This suggests that the family is probably easy to recognize and is well-represented in the European flora.

The Apiaceae family is closely related to the Araliaceae family and the boundaries between these families remain unclear. Some recent taxonomic systems (2008) include the Araliaceae family in an expanded Apiaceae family but this has not been widely followed. For instance the Hydrocotyle and Trachymene genera, traditionally included in the Apiaceae, are now generally included in the Araliaceae family. Current molecular evidence supports the separation of the Araliaceae and Apiaceae families as largely monophyletic groups, however, there are some intermediate taxa that still need resolution.

The species belonging to the Apiaceae family are herbaceous, biennials or perennial plants, although some grow tough stems and there are a few woody tree-like or shrubby species in tropical regions. They have alternate and usually compound leaves, occasionally simple, often fern-like or feather-divided; the leaves widen at the base into a sheath that clasps the stem. The stems are hollow between the leaf-joints, often furrowed.

The flowers of the Apiaceae are very uniform, most of the variation being in the leaves and fruits. The most obvious distinctive feature of the family is the inflorescence, the flowers grow in clusters, almost always concentrated in flat-topped simple or compound umbels; the rays of the primary umbel giving rise to a secondary umbel with the flower-bearing pedicels. The flowers are actinomorphic, have 5 petals, usually uneven, and 5 stamens; the flowers usually bisexual but are at times functionally pistillate or staminate. Functionally staminate flowers have a pistil but have no ovules capable of being fertilized. functionally pistillate flowers have stamens, but their anthers do not produce viable pollen. They are very often white, sometimes cream, yellow or pink. The outer flowers of the umbels are the first to open. Individual flowers are small; by themselves, they would not be readily apparent to pollinators. The inflorescence, however, is highly visible, and it is this that attracts the pollinators. The ovary of the flowers is inferior. Most members of the Apiaceae are promiscuous, which means that they can be pollinated by by almost any insect that can walk over the surface of the inflorescence. They are generally self-compatible. The pollinators are usually flies, mosquitoes, gnats and unspecialized bees.

The fruits are dry schizocarps which split at maturity into two seeds; the seeds are often conspicuously ribbed, and sometime winged. Some part of the plant will usually have a strong aroma of some sort, it is that aroma that renders many species as flavoring herbs and tasty vegetables.

draw_a.jpg can't be loaded.

It is usually easy to assign a plant to the Apiaceae family if it has :

The Apiaceae family is a large family with about 300 to 400 genera and between 2500 and 3000 species. They are distributed throughout a wide variety of habitats, principally in the north temperate regions of the world and rarely in tropical regions. 28 genera and 137 species are indigenous in southern Africa and a further eight genera and 15 species have been introduced introduced there and become naturalised. In North America, one can find 91 genera; of these, about 20 are found in Québec; they are :

The genus Hydrocotyle with a single species in Québec, Hydrocotyle americana, that is found in wet areas, in central and western Québec, and that used to be in the Apiaceae family has been put now in the Araliaceae family as stated above.


In Latin, the word apium is mentioned in Pliny, Pelagonius, Celsus, Apicius and even in the verses of Horace. The Latin word apium, in ancient botany, refers directly to the Greek word σελινον (selinon).

Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder), 23 AD - 70 AD (he died on August 25, AD 79 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, refers to the plant apium in his Naturalis Historia (Natural History).

Pelagonius (4th century A.D) was an influential Latin writer on veterinary medicine, especially on horses. Celsus (ca 25 BC - ca 50) was a Roman encyclopedist, known for his extant medical work, De Medicina. Marcus Gavius Apicius is believed to have been a Roman gourmet who lived sometime in the 1st century AD, during the reign of Tiberius. He is attributed with the authorship of the Roman cookbook Apicius. The work was added to over time, and compiled by an editor (or several editors) during the 4th Century AD.

The Latin apium et the Greek σελινον have been identified as either Apium graveolens (the Wild Celery) or Petroselinum crispum (the Parsley). Apium graveolens is the type species for the Apium genus, and the Apium genus is the type genus for the Apiaceae family.


Several species belonging to the Apiaceae family are used as food plants, spices and medicinal herbs, but some species are extremely toxic.

The plant structure includes a taproot, which on more than one occasion has been bred to grow large enough to be useful in food. Many species are adapted to conditions that encourage heavy concentrations of essential oils, so that some are used as flavorful, aromatic herbs, Some of the species cultivated as food or aromatic herbs are :

aug_01_02f.gthmb can't be loaded.

The family also includes some highly toxic plants, two of which are fond in Québec: The botanical subspecialty that studies Apiaceae is sometimes called sciadophytography.