Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 25: Queen Anne's Lace

This time of year roadsides and lawns are graced with tall stalks of Queen Anne's lace, a common wildflower that always speaks to me of high summer. As my husband and I went for a walk through the neighborhood before dinner tonight, the pale, filigreed faces followed us the whole way. It's not a flashy weed like the black-eyed Susan or tiger lily, but its delicate beauty always invites a closer look.

As a kid, I was always a bit wary of Queen Anne's lace because at the center of each cluster of white blossoms is one dark purple one that always made me look twice to be sure it wasn't a spider. I've never been fond of spiders. But now I'm kind of fascinated by this little quirk in a familiar flower. Legend has it that that spot represents a drop of Queen Anne's blood that fell after she pricked her finger while making lace. Stories aside, I wonder what its real purpose is in nature. Perhaps it serves as some sort of beacon to pollinating bees, who can see ultraviolet colors that are invisible to us--that frilly white face with the one dark spot might look completely different to a bee's eyes.

Queen Anne's lace is also known as wild carrot and it's what our garden carrot was cultivated from. If you let your carrots bloom, this relationship becomes apparent in the similarity of the flowers. Queen Anne's lace root is edible, like a carrot, but you want to be very sure you know you're eating the right plant, because it bears a striking similarity to poison hemlock. You'd only live to make that mistake once.

For such a dainty flower, this one is tougher than it looks. Its sturdy stem can be very difficult to pick, and may even irritate some people's skin. I personally prefer to enjoy "free range" Queen Anne's lace, each blossom a perfect little floral galaxy shining amid the universe of the summer fields.

Summer offering--
field of graceful, frothy lace,
delicate but strong.

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