ALEXANDERS

Smyrnium olusatrum

Carrot Family [Apiaceae]

month8mar month8march month8apr month8april month8may month8jun month8june

status
statusZarchaeophyte
 
flower
flower8yellow
 
inner
inner8green
 
morph
morph8hemizygo
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
type
typeZumbel
 
stem
stem8round
 
stem
stem8ribbed
 
smell
smell8myrrh smell8incense
myrrh

28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
Never very far away from the sea.


29th March 2011, Hilbre Island, West Kirkby, Wallasey. Photo: © RWD
In the first year, as in this photo, it is low and bushy with many leaves; in the second year it sprouts tall stems.


4th May 2005, Offas Dyke path, south of Prestatyn. Photo: © RWD
A stout, clump-forming plant to 1.5m high. Glossy dark-green leaves. Growing amidst the blue flowers of Green Alkanet.


21st April 2005, St. Helens Canal, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The stems are solid and rigid. Flowers in large hemispherical umbels. (Because the leaves appear yellowish-green [rather than dark-glossy-green], this photo may be of a garden variety [but not of the S. perfoliatum species])


4th May 2005, Offas Dyke path, south of Prestatyn. Photo: © RWD
Flowers yellowish-green. The almost round leaves are in threes near the top of the plant, but pinnate lower down.


29th March 2011, Hilbre Island, West Kirkby, Wallasey. Photo: © RWD
Petals are cream coloured.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
An umbel of umbels. Stem slightly ridged.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
The umbel of umbels from beneath.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
Flowers have two central yellowish-green fused spheres. One sphere has two petals, the other 3 petals, making a hemizygomorphic flower rather than one with radial symmetry.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
The anthers have white pollen. The two yellow fused spheres will eventually be at the top of the fruit.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
Fruits mid-green at first will turn black when ripe. The two fused spheres have been truncated at the bottom and are now at the top of the fruits, with two short projections curving-outwards.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
The fruits have six concave sides and are (roughly) flattened ovals in outline.


16th June 2009, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
The fruits look like two that are conjoined. Each fruit contains two black seeds.


29th March 2011, Hilbre Island, West Kirkby, Wallasey. Photo: © RWD
Lower leaves are bi-pinnate, with each branch having either usually 3 (sometimes 5) wide and coarsely toothed leaflets.


29th March 2011, Hilbre Island, West Kirkby, Wallasey. Photo: © RWD
Teeth are curved and pointed.


28th May 2012, Little Orme, North Wales Coast. Photo: © RWD
Upper stem leaves are trefoil.


Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

Not to be semantically confused with : Angelica or Garden Angelica, which are also umbellifers beginning with the letter 'A'.

In the home counties, but very few other hectads, Perfoliate Alexaders (Smyrnium perfoliatum) is found (as well as Alexanders). At only 60cm (1m maximum) it grows to half the height of Alexanders and has yellowish-green leaves rather than the dark glossy green of Alexanders. It was introduced and naturalised in grassy places and flower borders. However, another huge difference is that the leaves strongly clasp the stem, encircling it, which is not the case with some of the photos above taken on the St. Helens Canal, although they certainly have yellowish-green leaves.

When crushed, both leaves and stem smell (and taste) of Myrrh, hence the scientific name 'smyrnium'. It has a taste similar to that of Celery, another umbellifer.

There are not many yellow-flowered umbellifers, only about seven, the others being Wild Parsnip, Fennel, Pepper-saxifrage, Rock Samphire, Garden Parsley and Hog's Fennel which is quite rare. Alexanders can not be mistaken for any of these because it has glossy large dark-green leaves which are in threes like the Ace of Clubs. Its solid stem is also stouter stem than most others. The flower umbels lack bracts.

Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean, but now well established in the UK, almost always not far from the sea. It used to be cultivated, but is now almost forgotten as a foodstuff. In taste it is intermediate in flavour between Parsley and Celery. The latter has now replaced it culinarily. It is common around mediaeval monasteries around which it was once cultivated. The parsnip-flavoured root is boiled before eating and is mildly diuretic. The roots can be candied.

In the first year it is low and bushy with many leaves, in the second year it sprouts tall flowering stems. It was once grown in kitchen gardens of Monasteries and Castles as Wild Celery.

The genus Smyrnia are noted for their PolyAcetylides and FuroCoumarins. The highest concentration of Coumarins are said to be found in the seeds and in the roots of Alexanders, but your Author has been unable to ascertain which polyynes or which furocoumarins are present.

CUMINALDEHYDE

The brown fruit contains an essential oil, cuminal, with an odour reminiscent of cumin which also contains cuminal, its main aroma compound. Cuminal is another name for Cuminaldehyde / Cumaldehyde or 4-isopropylbenzaldehyde, which is contained in the essential oils of Myrrh, Eucalyptus, Cassia, Cumin and some other plants. Cuminaldehyde is related to Cumene (isopropylbenzene) which is not a component of Cumin (nor of Alexanders).

CONSTITUENTS of ESSENTIAL OIL


All these are found in the essential oil obtained from Alexanders and contribute to its aroma when crushed.
Germacrone is a ketone derivative of Germacrene D. It exhibits anti-tumour activity, inhibiting the proliferation of breast cancer cells, but its practical use is limited by multi-drug resistance. It also inhibits early stages of influenza - but only against H1N1 and H3N2 types of Influenza A virus and also against Influenza B but in a dose-dependant manner.
Curzerene is just one of the many aromatic compounds which are also found in the non-native Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and is one of the three principal sesquiterpenoids which contributes to its distinct aroma profile (the two others being Lindestrine and β-Bourbonene and other isomers of Bourbonene - neither of which are present in Alexanders). Several other species of the shrub Myrrh occur, one (Commiphora gileadensis) producing the Biblical Balm of Gilead oil. Curzerene is used by the perfume industry.

Just for interest one of the aromatic sesquiterpenes within Myrrh, β-Bourbonene (which is not a constituent of Alexanders) has an unusual chemical structure with a cyclo-butane ring joined each side to a cyclo-pentane ring.




FuranoEremophil-1-one is a Naphthofuran (containing a naphthalene moiety) found in green vegetables. It belongs to the class of chemicals called FuroEremophilanes and are derived in plants from Eudesmanes. Both Butterbur and Giant Butterbur also contain this substance.
IsoFuranoDiene is similar to the above FuranoEremophil-1-one but has a broken ring and lacks the ketone =O moiety and gains another two double-bonds. This compound is able to induce apoptosis (cell-death) in cancerous cells of the colon, which may give it pharmaceutical uses.

The latter two look similar to linear FuroCoumarins, but with certain obvious differences.


  Smyrnium olusatrum  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Apiaceae  

Distribution
 family8Carrot family8Apiaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Smyrnium
Smyrnium
(Alexanders)

ALEXANDERS

Smyrnium olusatrum

Carrot Family [Apiaceae]