FOOL'S PARSLEY

Aethusa cynapium

Carrot Family [Apiaceae]

month8jun month8june month8jul month8july month8aug month8sep month8sept month8oct

status
statusZnative
(ssp.cynapium)
status
statusZarchaeophyte
(ssp.agrestis)
rarity
rarityZuncommon
(ssp.agrestis)

flower
flower8white
 
inner
inner8cream
 
morph
morph8hemizygo
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
type
typeZumbel
 
stem
stem8round
lower
stem
stem8square
top
stem
stem8hollow
 
stem
stem8ribbed
 
smell
smell8pong
pong
toxicity
toxicityZmedium
 

24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
Height varies from just 5cm tall to 50cm, but specimens can reach 150cm. Apart from the fruits (when they develop) the green parts of the plant are a dark green.


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
The main identifying feature are the long narrow and linear bracteoles which hang downwards from the umbellets (there are usually no bracts on the umbel). With between 3 to 4 bracteoles per umbellet. (Unlike the [usually longer] bracts on Wild Carrot, these bracts are not pinnately branched nearer the end. And they are on the single umbel, rather than the many umbellets).


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
The bracteoles are all pointing downwards and on the outer side of the umbel like a lax straw-skirt.


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
The leaves are 2 to 3-pinnate. In outline they are triangular to lanceolate, the lower leaves withering when flowering.


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
The lobes on the leaves ar 5-15mm long, pinnatifidly-lobed (pinnate, but without much depth). Unopened flower buds right. Another umbel is trying to grow from the 'armpit' of the leaf-stalk as it attaches to a stem.


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
Flowers white with creamy-greeny centres. Here petals not yet fully unfolded. The umbels are compound, the main one having between 4 to 20 rays between 0.5 to 3cm long


18th June 2011, field, Winford Rd, IoW. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
Flowers white and they lack sepals


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
The fruits are a much brighter shade of green than are the darker-green leaves and stems (top right corner shows a [damaged] dark-green leaf)


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
When ripe the fruit is 2.5 - 3.5mm and broadly ovate, from above thinner in other dimension dimension.


24th July 2007, Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
When green they look like to bunches of tiny bananas cuddled together, with the outside curve of each banana with a keel - like a canoe. The two styles are white, short and strongly curved over the small stylopodium and away from each other.


9th July 2014, Hampshire. Photo: © Simon Melville
An umbel with umbelletes from above. Flowers still in bud stage making the long linear bracts easier to see. There are between 3 to 4 for each umbellete. Each begins with a wider shoulder. They can bifurcate; one does so here.




SECOND SHOWING ON WHITE-SCREEN TV

30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone


30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone


30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
The upper stems and stalks are more or less square with flutes &/or ridges (lower stems are round). The ridges are antrorsely serrate (have minute serrated teeth which are directed upwards/outwards).


30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
Stem still developing (but still square) with the flowers in bud.


30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
Stems and rays square and fluted/ribbed.


30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone


30th Aug 2008, under the spotlight. Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
Although the photos do not show this, the leaf lobes have antrorsely scabrid margins (with minute rough-feeling hairs directed outwards.


Some similarities to : Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) but that has longer bracts (and no bracteoles) and they are pinnately divided.

There are 3 sub-species:

  • Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium subsp. agrestis) Native, found on arable and waste ground. Erect stems to 1m high. The longest flower stalks are usually <half the length of the bracteoles. The commonest Fool's Parsley growing mainly over much of the UK south of Clitheroe.
  • Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium subsp. cynapium) Archaeophyte. Stems only to 20cm. The longest flower stalks are about as long as the bracteoles. Grows in arable land, scattered in South Britain and the Channel Islands.
  • Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium subsp. elata) The tallest at up to 2m. Lacks grooved stems. Leaf-segments narrower than the other two ssp. Seen occasionally on Jersey, West Kent and Cambridgeshire. The least common, but might become established.
Your Author thinks the above photos are all of ssp. agrestis.

Fool's Parsley derives its name from being mis-recognised as Parsley and eaten. Being toxic this is not a good thing to do...

The plant has apparently been used in folk medicine, but this is not recommended with a plant which is so toxic. On ingestion, Fool's Parsley can cause excitement followed by depression leading on to skeletal muscle paralysis, vomiting, diarrhoea, dilation of pupils, and finally death by suffocation. It seems not to affect the heart.

POLYYNES


It is said (seemingly derived from just one source) that it contains the polyacetylene (aka polyyne) Aethusin which has 2 triple bonds. Polyynes are toxic, and this one is no exception. The same source implies by proximity of the drawings, that it also contains the polyyne called Panacaxacol, which is a longer molecule with several extra side-groups attached but still with only 2 triple bonds. Fool's Parsley is said to be not as toxic as Hemlock is, but it is only just below it in toxicity. It is also claimed to contain the same toxic alkaloid as that, the highly toxic Coniine (which is not a polyyne but rather an alkaloid [containing s heterocyclic nitrogen atom]). However, another source says that it contains Coniine-like alkaloids, rather than Coniine itself.

Other toxic constituents of Fool's Parsley claimed by seemingly the same single source are Cynopine, Aethetsin/Ethetsin, Aethusanol A/Ethusanol A, Aethusanol B/Ethusanol B (none of which which your Author can find any chemical structural formulae for - but they might have synonyms which are findable, if only your Author could find any synonyms for them).

All in all the constituents of Fool's Parsley are calling out for a more recent evaluation of the secondary metabolites, preferably from specimens which have been verified by a botanist, since Umbellifers are so notoriously self-similar when you have not 'got your eye in'.


  Aethusa cynapium  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Apiaceae  

Distribution
 family8Carrot family8Apiaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Aethusa
Aethusa
(Fool's Parsley)

FOOL'S PARSLEY

Aethusa cynapium

Carrot Family [Apiaceae]