Prairie Lace

What about that plant? Should I pull it? 

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It was a good question. My prairie volunteers were working hard to hand-weed invasive sweet clover, giant ragweed, and other undesirables on a hot August morning.  I paused from my own work, and looked. Yes, it was a noxious weed.

Queen Anne’s lace.

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Daucus carota, or Queen Anne’s lace, is a familiar roadside plant in Illinois. It weaves its way into almost every prairie restoration.

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It’s in the carrot family, which isn’t a stretch to think about if you smell the carroty leaves or pull it up by its long, carrot-like tap root.

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Some Native American tribes used an infusion of the blooms to treat diabetes. Others used the roots as medicine and food –with caution. The plant somewhat resembles the poisonous wild hemlock.

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This bloom below has a little pink in it, almost like a pale prairie sunset with lots of white clouds. What do you think?

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Queen Anne’s lace is as pretty as anything we grow in our gardens. I have a certain nostalgia about it, as the blooms were the summer backdrop for my Midwestern childhood. But it’s not native to Illinois, so technically, we should get rid of it in a prairie restoration.

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Look closer. See the tiny reddish purple center? Most, but not all blooms have this.

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Folk tales say that the flowers are named for  Queen Anne of England. As she tatted lace, her needle slipped and she pricked her finger. Ouch! A single drop of blood fell into the lace.

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It’s a great story. I love the “lace stage.” But that’s not the only time it attracts my attention. In its early pre-bloom stage, Queen Anne’s lace reminds me of a bird’s nest, or a tangled skein of yarn.

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Cut some, and the flowers last a long time in a vase, bringing a little bit of the outdoors inside.

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In the winter, the old Queen Anne’s lace is a familiar silhouette against the snowy prairie. Speaking of which….

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Back to my volunteer’s question. Should we pull it? The prairie restoration we  weed is more than 50 years old. It is a tough, mature prairie, well equipped to withstand most invaders.  Queen Anne’s lace loiters around the edges. It’s seemingly too lazy to make a leap into the interior.

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I’m not usually sentimental about weeds, but I thought for a moment. Admired the blooms again.

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Maybe on another day we’ll pull it.

But not today.

(All photos of Queen Anne’s lace taken by Cindy Crosby on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; and James “Pate” Philip State Park Prairie, Bartlett, IL. Tent at sunset photo, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. The legend of Queen Anne’s lace is found in multiple sources, with some slight variations. Other information on the traditional uses of Queen Anne’s lace may be found in Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel Moerman.)

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