Anyone wondering why the leaves of many umbellifers look familiar, particularly when young, need look no further than their vegetable patch or a greengrocer’s stall and the leaves of celery, parsnip or carrot. All are cultivars originating from the Umbelliferae family and all have wild versions growing in the UK.


Wild carrot is probably the most well-known and is widespread throughout the British Isles with the exception of the far north.

Learn how to identify wild carrot using its leaves, bracts and flowers with our species guide.

  • Interested in learning more about Britain’s flora? Check out our guides to orchids, bluebells and ferns.

Umbellifers of Britain

What is an umbellifer? What is the difference between cow parsley and hemlock? Is giant hogweed dangerous? Find out the answers to all these questions and more with our guide to umbellifers.

Cow parsley in the sun

How to identify wild carrot

Wild carrot does not grow particularly tall, rarely exceeding 60cm in height, and is typical of umbellifers with the exception of the three forked bracts (small, leaflike structures) that form beneath the flowerhead.

The leaves are slender but more robust than might be typical of cultivated species, and while they smell distinctly ‘carroty’, the roots are thin and very unlike the solid, crunchy carrots with which we are familiar as food.

Shallow depth of field close-up shot of Queen Anne's Lace
Wild carrot has distinctive forked bracts/Credit: Getty

Wild carrot flowers

The umbel of the wild carrot is perhaps the most striking feature. Above the unique, pinnate bracts is found a splay of stiff rays that form a tight, almost semi-spherical, cluster of flowers.

The petals are a crisp white, with the exception, often, of the central flower. This is deep red in colour and has long been the subject of debate. Charles Darwin, and other botanists, dismissed it as a vestigial oddity, while it is also argued that it acts as a mimic, appearing like an insect that may attract other pollinators.

Wild carrot plant and flowers
The petals are a crisp white, with the exception, often, of the central flower/Credit:Getty

Like cow parsley, wild carrot is sometimes known as ‘Queen Anne’s lace’ with that central, red flower actually the stain from a drop of blood that resulted from Anne having pricked her finger with a needle while lace-making.


What is certain, is that despite its relatively small size, the umbel of a wild carrot is among the most impressive.

Wild carrot
The bundled seedhead of wild carrot/Credit: Getty


Kevin Parr is a writer fisherman and amateur naturalist
Kevin ParrWriter, fisherman and amateur naturalist

Kevin is a writer, fisherman and amateur naturalist who lives in West Dorset with his wife and a colony of grass snakes. He is the angling correspondent for The Idler magazine. His books include Rivers Run: An Angler’s Journey from Source to Sea (Rider Books).