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All In the Family: Apiaceae

by Andrew Keys on June 18, 2010

I’ve always loved Apiaceae — a family of plants also called Umbellifereae, hence their common name and a word I dearly love, umbellifers — but I come to appreciate them more all the time.

I heard ages ago if you want to attract beneficial insects, plant umbellifers. I made note, and guess what? It’s true. When the Apiaceae bloom, they attract all kinds of itty beneficial insects that feed on the nectar of the plants’ many tiny flowers, which together form groups of up-turned flowerheads called umbels (hence that name). These little guys also happen to enjoy a meal of common garden pests, and will go hunting for yours when they’re done at the umbellifer bar.

So what’s an umbellifer? I will tell you. Carrots are umbellifers. More surprisingly? Carrots are the domesticated version of one of my favorite weeds, Queen Anne’s lace. Additionally, your spice rack is probably alive with umbellifers: dill, cilantro, cumin, chervil, fennel, caraway, lovage, and anise. Another popular (or unpopular — yuck) vegetable that is an umbellifer is celery.

One surprising member, among everyday garden plants? Eryngiums are umbellifers. I didn’t know that before. Also everyone’s favorite, Angelica (pictured in the banner), popular Astrantia, and lesser known Chaerophyllum, Ammi, Myrrhis, and many others.

One umbellifer I’d implore you NOT to plant, at least in this part of the country, is Aegopodium, the bishop’s weed, a terrible, horrible invasive species.

As part of your integrated pest management program, however, I will task you with planting at least one umbellifer this year! Come on, there has to be one here you can make room for in your garden. The more of those beneficial insects you attract with umbellifers, the less non-organic pest control you’ll have to resort to.

It should also be said the family Apiaceae is closely related to the family Araliaceae, which we must discuss at some point soon. Meanwhile, here are some umbellifer family member portraits:

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