More on Carrots/Queen Anne's

Steve Long X99Lynx at
Mon Mar 18 21:44:28 UTC 2002

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Awhile back Larry Trask posted some questions and a summary re carrots.
Recently, working on something else,  I came across some additional
information that may supplement what Larry gathered and may also have some
interesting implications for the historical linguistics of such things.

1. - There is a modern name for the carrot that did not appear in the summary
Larry posted, but one that may be important in understanding the way in which
both the names and the plant traveled in history.

Today, the other name by which many of us know the "carrot" plant is "Queen
Anne's Lace" (in the U.S. particularly.)

Of course, Queen Anne's Lace is for the most part not cultivated and most
horticulturists identify it as the "wild" carrot.  But in some cases it may
in fact simply be a feral carrot.  The Integrated Taxonomic Information
System identifies "Daucus carota ssp. sativus (Hoffm.) Arcang." as both the
carrot and the wild carrot.  ITIS does also identify a second subspecies
carota (ssp. carota) that is exclusively wild. (USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS
Database, Version 3.1 National Plant Data Center ((

The roots of the wild and cultivated carrot do differ.  But the wild
varieties definitely can be made edible if harvested early enough.  (It's
even reported in some of the literature that laws had to be enacted to force
English peasants to plant and eat the cultivated carrot because they
preferred the wild variety.)

What's important for this discussion is that the two types of carrot plants -
above the ground - are for all practical purposes identical.  Either kind of
carrot only flowers in its second year.  Cultivated carrots however are
normally harvested early in the first season, unless they are being grown to
produce seed.  Just before flowering, their roots become hard and woody in
the same way as the wild varieties.  When seeds are being produced, the
cultivated "orange" carrot must be protected against pollination by QAL or
the progeny will lose the "recessive" trait of orange color and sometimes the
fuller root.  There's more detail and a photograph of cultivated carrot
plants allowed to go "two-seasons" for seed production at the USDA Vegetable
Crops Research Unit web site

The key here is that the cultivated carrot plant above the ground will look
virtually the same as QLA, from the time it breaks ground to the time it

Queen Anne's Lace is mentioned often enough in everything from poetry to
travel guides to advertising, again particularly in the U.S.  But my
experience has been that it is pretty consistently a surprise for most folks
to learn that it is the "wild carrot."  Most early references to QAL don't
mention carrots at all.

The name itself - Queen Anne's Lace - poses a bit of a problem.  Many
references attribute the name to the time of Queen Anne in the early18th
Century.  See e.g., Haughton, C., Green Immigrants (1978).  But no one who
has researched this for me has found a reference earlier than 1883, and that
in a pamphlet on ornamental gardening.  It is possible that the name was part
of the "Queen Anne's Revival", a decorative and clothing fashion movement
that became hot about that time in England and the US.  (Queen Anne is the
only Queen with her own entry in the original OED, but the references are
either to the saying "Queen Anne is dead" meaning "old news." Or to the
revival fad and none of these are dated earlier than 1881.  There is no
reference to QAL in the first OED, but there are a lot of references to other
"queen's-" plants, including tobacco as "queen's herb.")

So, we might ask how two virtually identical plants - the carrot and Queen
Anne's Lace - came to have two different names, almost to the point of two
separate identities.   One obvious reason might be that they served two very
different functions.  There's good evidence that the carrot plant - not
native to the U.S. in either form - was introduced on two separate occasions
to serve two very different purposes.  One was as a food plant and the other
was as an ornamental lace-like garden plant.  And each time the plant carried
a different name.

What I think this tells us linguistically is that the singular plant of
today's scientific Botany is not a good guide for how such plants were
thought of or named in the past or among non-scientific types.

In fact, a singular plant may have been in effect several completely
different plants in the language of the past.  And (more importantly) not
because of confusion or different languages, but simply because that plant
had different functions for different groups of people speaking the same
language.  We might expect cooks, farmers, gardeners, marketeers, herbalists,
basket weavers, tanners, cowherds and housewives to potentially each have
their own name for the same plant.

But it may not always be apparent in the record what group of speakers were
connected with what name, or which name came to be adopted by the chroniclers
who finally came to report it in writing.
(End of Part 1)

Steve Long

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