Monday, September 14, 2020

Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium)


Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium). Frome, 10 September 2020.

Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium, Sw: Vildpersilja), growing where we usually see it: an opportunistic weed in and around towns, with a special liking for the foot of walls. It's common but I never see it in huge numbers. And it never gets much bigger than this: about 50cm.

For such an unloved plant it's remarkably good at hanging in there (though for reasons that are unclear it may have declined at the limit of its range in the far NW British Isles). It's very poisonous, and could be confused with edible herbs such as parsley and coriander, so it's caused more than its fair share of mischief over the years.

It is the only species in its genus, an annual or biennial that's native to most of Europe and a bit further east (though it hardly gets into the Iberian peninsula). The name Aethusa refers, according to Den virtuella floran, to the shining surface of the leaves, whose rather dark green is a good clue from a distance. As ever, I wonder how a plant with such a liking for cultivated ground managed to get by before man came along; was it where animals burrowed, or in places where the ground was naturally disturbed, such as landslips and crumbling clifftops? 

Aethusa cynapium: hairless hollow stem. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Aethusa cynapium: immature fruits. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Flowers of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Flowers of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Perhaps Linnaeus' Aethusa seemed like a shining name because she was a daughter of one of the Pleiades.

Aethusa: Daughter of Poseidon by the Pleiad Alcyone; bore Eleuther by Apollo.

Pausanias 9.20.1 (re Tanagra in Boeotia): "The people of Tanagra say that their founder was Poemander, the son of Chaeresilaus, the son of Iasius, the son of Eleuther, who, they say, was the son of Apollo by Aethusa, the daughter of Poseidon."

Young leaves and budding umbel of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Aethusa cynapium is valued by homoeopaths: in the literature the key visual image is a baby violently sicking up mother's milk but this can also relate to troubles with other human transactions, e.g. a psychopathological decision to refrain from communication with other people. The Aethusa type is typically fond of animals instead. Cf. George Vithoulkas:

Hanging bracteoles on opening umbel of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

The best ID feature is the distinctive hanging bracteoles that you see on emerging umbels. ("Bracteoles" hang off the secondary umbels. Aethusa has no "bracts" i.e. similar growth at base of primary umbel.)

These bracteoles protect the emerging umbel but have no use later and stop growing. Thus they are relatively unnoticeable on a fully open umbel (see below). 

The less noticeable bracteoles on fully open umbel of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.


-- Parnassus with Crassus sounds good.


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