An Unwelcome Doppelganger Plant

By Laura Miller | May 14, 2022
Image by cmbankus
by Laura Miller
May 14, 2022

Have you ever been fooled by a doppelganger plant? These would be plants that look quite similar to another plant. A doppelganger plant can present a danger when a toxic plant imitates an edible one. Yet sometimes, doppelgangers are nothing more than a nuisance. I find that’s the case with Queen Anne’s Lace vs. carrot seedlings. 

Fooled by Queen Anne’s Lace Seedlings

It never fails. When I sow my carrot seeds in the spring, I always get Queen Anne’s Lace seedlings coming up inside my carrot patch. My garden is downwind from my neighbor’s field, where Queen Anne’s Lace blooms abundantly all summer long. 

Whether the seeds are transported by wind or birds, these weeds love to germinate in my freshly tilled garden soil. Sometimes referred to as wild carrots, Queen Anne’s lace seedlings look quite similar to my newly germinated carrot plants. So much so that I can’t tell the difference.

By the time I can distinguish between Queen Anne’s Lace vs. carrot seedlings, the former has developed an extensive root system. The effect is the same as if I had waited too long to weed and thin my carrots. Pulling an established Queen Anne’s Lace weed often uproots and displaces many of my carrot seedlings.

Are Wild Carrots Edible?

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is considered the ancestor of our modern-day domesticated carrot. Not surprising, the roots of this weed smell exactly like a carrot. Which leaves many gardeners wondering, “Are wild carrots edible?” 

Although Queen Anne’s Lace has been used medicinally for centuries, expert sources contend the plant is toxic and should not be consumed. For some individuals, even touching the plant can problematic.

The sap of this weed contains chemicals which can cause phytophotodermatitis in some individuals. When these chemicals are exposed to the sun, sensitive individuals will develop a rash where the sap has touched their skin. 

A Harmful Doppelganger Plant 

By far, the biggest concern with consuming wild carrots is their similarity to poison hemlock. This doppelganger plant has leaves and flowers which are quite similar to those of Queen Anne’s Lace. Fortunately, hemlock foliage has a nasty odor which is quite unlike the sweet, carrot aroma of either Queen Anne’s Lace or domesticated carrots. 

Even as an experienced gardener, I sometimes find it necessary to distinguish between my food crops and harmful imposters. Both nightshade and horse nettles have similarities to tomato plants. Moonseed is the doppelganger plant to grapes and horseradish looks a lot like curly dock. 

Bottom line, if a plant growing in my garden doesn’t look, smell or behave like I expect, I investigate further. After all, it could be a harmful doppelganger. And in the meantime, I’ll keep cursing those Queen Anne’s Lace seedlings that never fail to fool me every year.

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