Myrrhis odorata

Carrot Family [Apiaceae]  

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20th May 2013, roadside, Barnside Moor, Langsett. Photo: © RWD
Likes to occupy roadside verges amidst grass on high ground where it replaces Cow Parsley.

9th June 2008, nr. Taddington Village, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Grows to 1m or more in height, often spreading along just one side of a road for a matter of just a hundred yards or so,

30th May 2015, near Taddington, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD
These groups are so compact it is often not possible to see much of the lower stems.

27th May 2005, somewhere near Brown Knoll, Dark Peaks. Photo: © RWD
But here the lower parts of the stem are in view, complete with branched branches.

29th May 2008, Peak Forest Canal, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Leaves fern-like and between 2- to 4-pinnate. There are no bracts underneath the branches. It is unusual to find a lone specimen; they usually go around in gangs.

11th May 2005, Farleton, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The umbels are compound with between 4 and 10 (up to 21!) rays (which are hairy). The rays are usually 1.5 to 3cm long and bear a secondary umbels above bearing the flowers.

Note the second sets of creamy flowers beneath the taller foamy umbels. The umbels bearing hermaphroditic flowers (which can bear fruit) are stouter than the male-only umbels (which here are below the larger hermaphroditic umbels).

2nd May 2008, Hollingworth Canal, Daisy Nook, Gtr Manchester. Photo: © RWD
These are (your Author thinks) male-only flowers (with narrower rays than those umbels bearing hermaphroditic flowers) and are unable to produce seeds. Bracts are usually absent beneath the main umbel, but bracteoles (about 5) are usually present beneath the umbellets

27th May 2005, Chinley, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The white flowers are quite small, but their sepals are minute.

16th April 2011, Calder & Hebble Navigation, Wakefield. Photo: © RWD
One of the smaller umbels, showing the typical umbellifer flowers, with two long petals and three much shorter ones, with the longest on the periphery of the umbel.

16th April 2011, Calder & Hebble Navigation, Wakefield. Photo: © RWD
Two long white 'stalks' extend from the two tiny white globular constructs in the centre.

29th May 2008, Peak Forest Canal, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Long, thickish, ripe, tasty seed pods ready for nibbling. The pods are much longer than most other umbellifers, and fatter as a result. Here, seen against the Sun, the edges are semi-translucent as actinic rays travel through them. The stylopodium atop each is conical and has two long white/greenish styles spread apart making an angle of about 60°.
The flowers beneath them without pods are either male or never got pollinated, possibly a bit of both those.
[ Warning - do not nibble ANY seed pods of umbellifers unless you are absolutely sure of identification! In the case of Sweet Cicely, the pods will smell of aniseed when crushed - but crush the seeds of a poisonous umbellifer and you could become unwell! ]

29th May 2008, Peak Forest Canal, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The seed pods also have a few hairs angled upwards at c. 45°. These specimens have the remains of the petals atop.

25th June 2005, Peak Forest Canal, Furness Vale, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
Three large (normal size) are on this plant plus two much shorter ones on the left almost hidden amongst the remains of flowers on very thin stalks of the umbellets. The stalks of the fruit are much sturdier, but much shorter. Short hairs can be espied on the slightly-ribbed stem leading up to the umbel of umbels.

25th June 2005, Peak Forest Canal, Furness Vale, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
Unripe seed pods are just right for eating. The fawn coloured remains of some of the petals cling on at the top just below the stylopodium which has two splayed styles atop tipped by very stubby discoidal stigmas, which are grey here.

The seed pods are 15 to 25mm long and have very short upwardly-angled bristles on the ridges of the fruit. Their stalks are about 5mm long.

30th July 2007, Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Linthwaite. Photo: © RWD
Seed pods too ripe for eating. On those where there is a fawn-coloured rod on the brown stalk - the seed pods have been discarded sowing their seeds ready to grow into other Sweet Cicely plants nearby.

24th May 2015, near the Barrel Inn, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD
Often, (but not always) some of the leaves look as though they have been sprayed with silver paint in a bi-symmetrical pattern. But this is normal, and a further identifying feature for this plant as if you haven't already got enough. The leaves are a paler green than most other umbellifers.

9th June 2008, Taddington Village, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Note the greyish/silverish markings on some of the leaves looking a little like common salt encrustations. This seems to apply more to young plants, fewer mature ones are seen with these markings.

20th Sept 2007, Wildboarclough, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Topside of leaf.

20th Sept 2007, Wildboarclough, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Underside of leaf.

20th Sept 2007, Wildboarclough, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The light-green leaves are very fern-like. The stems have fine hairs. Beware similar looking umbellifers which have darker green fern-like leaves, do not have long pods which smell of aniseed, and which may be deadly poisonous!

13th April 2009, somewhere near Peak Forest Canal, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
A new plant sprang up earlier this year. Hairy bronzed stems and pinnate leaves more like those of a fern.

Not to be semantically confused with : Sweet Alison, Sweet Chestnut, Sweet Flag, Sweet Grasses, Sweet Gum, Sweet Tobacco, Sweet Vernal-Grass, Sweet Violet, Small-flowered Sweet-briar, Sweet William or Sweet-William Catchfly [plants belonging to wildly differing families]

The leaves are 2 to 4-pinnate, fern-like and have a slight resemblance in shape and form to some other members of the Carrot Family, possibly poisonous ones. But those of Sweet Cicely are a lighter green, and smell of aniseed. Both stems and seed pods are covered in thin hairs reminiscent of those on Stinging Nettles, but they don't sting. It is mainly a plant of northern England and southern Scotland.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics : Smells of aniseed when crushed, as does Fennel, but Sweet Cicely has fern-like leaves whereas those of Fennel are thin and thread-like.

Distinguishing Feature : Apart from the pervasive smell of aniseed, the leaves are fern-like and sometimes have greyish markings on both the top and the underside.

Not to be semantically confused with : Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima) [a plant belonging to the Cabbage family (Brassicaceae)]

Both the leaves and the seed pods, which are edible, liberate the sweet smell of aniseed when crushed between the fingers. In times past children used to eat the ripe seed pods as a snack on the long walk to school, the taste sensation being that of aniseed, due to the same chemical, anethole which is synthesized in the plant. Anethole is also present in two or three other members of the Carrot family, Fennel being one. The seeds can be eaten in salads whilst they are still green. The leaves can be blanched, deep-fried in butter and eaten as a starter. Sweet Cicely is used as one of the ingredients (amongst many) in the making of Charteuse. The leaves were once wielded in the polishing of oak furniture, which must have made any furniture smell delicious.

It grows along road verges, hedge-banks, and other grassy places seemingly preferring alkaline soils (well, not acidic soils). It occurs in the North of England, especially in the White Peaks area and is the only plant in the Myrrhis genera

Grizzled Skipper
Small Copper

Anethole is the olfactory component of Oil of Aniseed, which is obtained from Aniseed Pimpinella Anisum, not a native plant. It also contributes to the flavour of Tarragon and of Fennel, in the leaves of Cinnamon (Cinnamomum osmophloeum)], in Anise Myrtle (Syzygium anisatum) (which is in the Myrtaceae family, Wild Liquorice (Astragalus glycyphyllos) and in Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) (which is in a differing genus). Anethole is used widely as a flavouring compound.

An isomer of Anethole, called Estragole (only the position of the double-bond has changed) is found in Marjoram. Trans-Anethole, as shown above (but not cis-Anethole) is the sweet component of Sweet Cicely and has been shown to be 13 times sweeter than sucrose (sugar). Anethole is used at low concentrations as flavouring agents in foods, but possesses undesirable hedonistic properties which prevents its use as a sweetener in replacement for sucrose. [Likewise trans-Cinnamaldehyde is also sweet, 50 times sweeter than sucrose, but not the cis-form.

para-Anisaldehyde (shown), which also smells of aniseed, is found in Anise, Fennel and in Sweet Cicely.

  Myrrhis odorata  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Apiaceae  

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(Sweet Cicely)


Myrrhis odorata

Carrot Family [Apiaceae]  

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