The family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferaea) Lindley
The words or terms in red
(actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a
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
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
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
The species belonging to the Apiaceae
family are herbaceous,
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
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
The flowers are actinomorphic, have 5 petals,
usually uneven, and 5 stamens; the flowers
usually bisexual but are at times
functionally pistillate or
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
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
It is usually easy to assign a plant to the Apiaceae family if it has :
- hollow stems;
- small flowers in umbels;
- flowers with five petals;
- white, yellow or pink (not blue) flowers.
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 :
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.
- the genus Aegopodium;
- the genus Aethusa with the single species
- the genus Angelica
- the genus
Anthriscus, with 2 species in Québec:
- the genus Carum;
- the genus Cicuta with
3 species in Québec:
- the genus Conioselinum;
- the genus Conium;
- the genus Cryptotaenia
- the genus Daucus
with a single species, introduced and naturalized in Québec, quite
common, Daucus carota
- the genus Heracleum;
- the genus Ligusticum;
- the genus Osmorhiza
with 4 species in Québec:
- Osmorhiza berteroi;
- Osmorhiza claytonii;
- Osmorhiza depauperata;
- Osmorhiza longistylis;
- the genus Pastinaca,
with a single species, introduced and naturalized in Québec, quite
- the genus Sanicula,
with 3 species in Québec:
- the genus Sium
with a single species in Québec,
- the genus Taenidia;
- the genus Zizia.
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
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
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
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 :
The family also includes some highly toxic plants, two of which are fond in
- Anethum graveolens, the Dill, a
a short-lived perennial, used to flavor many foods;
- Anthriscus cerefolium, the Chervil,
is a delicate annual herb related to
parsley, used to season mild-flavored dishes and is a constituent of
the French herb mixture known as fines herbes;
- Angelica spp., the Angelica,
a genus of about 60 species of tall biennial and perennial herbs,
some being grown as flavoring agents or for their medicinal properties'
- Apium graveolens, commonly known as the Celery
(var. dulce) or the celeriac (var. rapaceum)
depending on whether the petioles or roots are eaten;
- Arracacia xanthorrhiza, the Arracacha, a garden root
vegetable originally from the Andes, somewhat intermediate between the
carrot and celery. Its
starchy taproot is a popular food
item in South America, especially in Brazil where it is a major
- Carum carvi, the Caraway or Persian cumin,
a biennial plant native to Europe
and western Asia; its seeds are used as spice in bread, cheese, etc.,
and as a fragrance component in soaps, lotions, and perfumes;
- Centella asiatica, the Gotu Kola, a small herbaceous
annual, used notably as a leafy green in Sri Lankan cuisine;
- Coriandrum sativum, the Coriander,
an annual herb, native to southwestern Asia west to North Africa;
all parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried
seeds are the most commonly used in cooking;
- Cuminum cyminum, the Cumin, an herbaceous annual plant,
with a slender branched stem, native from the east Mediterranean to
East India, the second most popular spice in the world after black
- Daucus carota,
the Carrot, native to temperate regions of Europe, southwest
Asia and northeast North America; domesticated carrots are
cultivars of a
Daucus carota subsp. sativus;
- Eryngium spp., a genus of about 230 species,
with roots used as vegetables, young shoots and leaves sometimes
used as asparagus substitute, etc.;
- Foeniculum vulgare, the Fennel, a hardy perennial herb,
with yellow flowers and feathery leaves; it is highly aromatic and
flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses;
- Myrrhis odorata, the Cicely, the sole species in the
genus Myrrhis; its leaves are sometimes used as a herb, with a rather
strong taste reminiscent of anis;
- Ferula gummosa, that grow plentifully on the slopes of the
mountain ranges of northern Iran; its aromatic gum resin is the
galbanum, one of the oldest of drugs; it is mentioned in
the Book of Exodus (30,34) as being used in the making of a perfume for
- Pastinaca sativa,
the Parsnip, a root vegetable related
to the carrot, native to Eurasia and eaten there since ancient times;
- Petroselinum crispum, the Parsley, a bright green,
biennial herb, also used as spice; it is very common in Middle Eastern,
European, and American cooking;
- Pimpinella anisum, the Anise, native to the eastern
Mediterranean region and southwest Asia, known for its flavor that
resembles licorice, fennel, and tarragon, used in a wide variety of
regional and ethnic foods;
- Levisticum officinale, the Lovage, the seeds of which are
used to flavor food, especially in South European cuisine.
The botanical subspecialty that studies Apiaceae is sometimes called
Cicuta maculata, (picture above),
native to nearly all of North America, from
northern Canada to southern Mexico; some consider it to be North
America's most toxic plant; it is fatal when swallowed, causing violent
and painful convulsion;
- Conium maculatum,
a toxic herbaceous biennial plant, native to
Europe and the Mediterranean region, introduced and naturalised in many
other areas, including Asia, North America and Australia; ingestion
in any quantity can result in respiratory collapse and death; for an
adult the ingestion of more than 6 to 8 fresh leaves, or a smaller dose
of the seeds or root may result in fatality. In ancient Greece,
Conium maculatum was used to poison condemned prisoners. The most
famous victim is the philosopher Socrates.