I Confess To A Lapse Of Horticultural Judgment

I am about to confess that there is another member of the Umbelliferae family in my garden.

But before I do, a quick review.

In my last blog post, I confessed that I had somehow inadvertently removed, hoed under, or dug up all the dill, cilantro, carrots, and parsnips in my garden in my zealous quest for a weed free garden, and that these plants are all members of the Umbelliferae family of plants.

Now I confess that I planted Aegopodium podograria ‘Variegatum’ in one contained little spot in my garden. What a complete lapse of horticultural judgment on my part! What was I thinking! I was not thinking! It has variegated leaves, it seduced me.

Whew, I feel better already.

You may know it as Bishop’s Goutweed.

And it is invasive and hard to get rid of once you plant it.

And they often sell it on purpose at garden centers as Snow-on-the-Mountain.

And it is also in this same plant family, Umbelliferae. Let it flower and you’ll see the resemblance to Queen Anne’s Lace. (No, don’t let it flower, it might set seed. Just take my word for it).

Anyway, the goutweed is contained, I have confessed, and if I just keep pulling it out, one day it will be gone and we can forget all about my lapse of horticultural judgment, at least when it comes to this particular situation.

Now I have another confession to make.

While it is true that all these plants, including dill, carrots, cilantro, parsnips, and goutweed, are members of the same plant family and all have flowers that look more or less like the common weed, Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, the family name Umbelliferae has been replaced with Apiaceae.

I hope I haven’t confused anyone by being old school with the name.

We can thank Carl Linnaeus (that's a sculpture of him at the Chicago Botanic Garden pictured above) for the botanical classification system that groups plants into families and sub-families based on their flower structures. I’ve been reading The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, and apparently it was not so easy for Linnaeus to get people to adopt his system in the early 1700’s because it had to do with s-e-x, male and female parts of the flowers. Scandalous! But Linnaeus persevered and now we have a reasonable, orderly way to keep track of plants by families.

We can also thank modern day botanists for tweaking the system and coming up with new, improved plant family names like Apiaceae.

I have one other confession to make.

I love to study plant taxonomy and figure out which family a particular plant is in. I think knowing what family a plant is in helps in understanding how to care for the plant in the garden and what to expect from it. So there might be “one or two” more posts this summer in which I go on and on about a particular plant family. I hope you won’t just click away from those posts with a “not again”.

But I promise, I will not use the old school names for plant families and then switch to the new name at the end like I did with Umbelliferae, I mean Apiaceae.

Or if I do, I’ll confess it.


  1. That's okay, Carol, you can use all the old school names you want because I won't remember any of them after I read your amusing post. You plant scholar, you.

    I'm not too keen on Bishop Weed either but at least my huge patch of it is contained in an area that would otherwise be filled with something worse, like mint.

  2. Bring it on, Carol. It's absolutely fascinating. I am useless at taxonomy - I can remember plant names, but I can never remember the difference between a genus and a species, I'm ashamed to say. When it comes to families, I'm lost. However, that doesn't mean I'm not interested.

  3. Carol, I think Victoria has said more or less what I was going to! I find your posts on plant taxonomy very interesting and if I read enough something might stick in my brain!! I am not too bad at plant names providing the are written down but hearing them I often haven't a clue what is being discussed!

    Thank you for all passing on all your hard work. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  4. I find the plant names and history interesting. Keep it up!

  5. UGH Goutweed is an invader. It does do well where you can't get anything else to grow, like under pine trees but BEWARE.

  6. Just when you remember one Latin family name they change it on you. I hate that.

  7. Carol,
    I am so thankful you love to study taxonomy. It's funny you mention it today as I was just telling my sister the very same thing. If I can figure out what family a plant is (which never really mattered to me prior to vegetable gardening) in it seems logical it helps in understanding how to care for it and what to expect from it. Of course, it is all GREEK to me and seems so confusing but I DO wish I knew even a slice what you know about it. SO, you keep writing/sharing and maybe just a tad bit of it will sink in for me.
    Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

  8. There are times, my friend, when you are way smarter than me. My eyes are now crossed because of the taxonomy. I love it though.~~Dee

  9. I enjoyed reading this and your last post Carol... understanding the families of plants is fascinating really. If only I could remember the names! Regarding "Bishops weed" Yikes... well the variegated variety you have is not as invasive as its duller solid green leafy cousin, that has taken over my gardens... trying to control it in an organic way is next to impossible, and so I have accepted that there is one Apiaceae I would prefer not to live with but have no choice. I adapted and I am now the proud gardener of thugs... or very sturdy tall plants that can out grow and have strong root systems or bulbs, corms and rhizomes. I confess I do not know how I came by it! I believe it is considered illegal to sell it in many states now. The one good thing about the plant is that it is easy to pull up the leaves so that it grows back shorter... for grow back it will. If you have not already read it you might enjoy Goethe's 'Metamorphosis of Plants'.

  10. To learn more about plant families, you might enjoy Flowering Plant Families of the World by V.H. Heywood. I confess I haven't read it myself, but I found out about it somehow and put it on my Amazon wishlist.

  11. I have to admit, I'm a taxonomy geek too. It's very interesting, and I hope you do more posts on plant families. It is hard to keep up with the name changes in botany. The worst is when you learn the new name, and then they change it back. (Can you say "Dendranthema"?)

  12. Never need to apologize for plant name vagaries, Carol. The planting of goutweed, on the other hand, is a bad bad lapse, and may result in you being addressed by the Society for the Prevention of Goutweed.

  13. Hi Carol, hoe gone wild, eh? Woe to the umbels, or should we just call them apes now? In the past I have resisted the siren call of plant taxonomy, and cursed the constant changing of names, asters and mums in particular, but there is a certain fascination about what groups plants together. The sculpture in Chicago triggered something in us all, it seems. :-)

  14. Odd man out here, I like the snow on a mountain. I just dig it up on a regular basis or...in the case of a border plant, mow it down. It comes back, is attractive and I don't feel guilty about pulling it out of the ground.

  15. I don't mind you going on and on about a particular group of plants. It's interesting and I always learn something.
    We actually have Aegopodium podograria ‘Variegatum’, and I must confess we like it. It does like to wander but I keep it in one spot in our shade garden where it performs admirably. Like you, though, I wouldn't recommend it to most people.

  16. Goutweed! - the epitome of invasive plants. Your post is the third time I've heard complaints about this plant this year. Good luck!

    PS Can you clarify the difference between chrysanthemum and dendranthema? I'm confused!!

  17. One of my favorite garden guides for Tennessee native plants is organized around plant families...It's been immensely helpful and interesting. Sometime I am able to id a plant family based on the flower structure or leaves...way cool! gail

  18. Please keep up the taxonomy! Too many common names for the same plant. and the Latin/Greek tells you more about the plant.
    As for the Goutweed - who needs no further explanation - I have it under a Rhodie-azalea etc border, acid and dry and it actually struggles, I actually wish it would grow better but I am not so foolish as to try to encourage it.

  19. Well, no wonder I was confused:) Seriously, Carol,I know very little about botany, so your posts on plant taxonomy are always informative and appreciated. I'm continually amazed when I do look at plant families, how many plants are in the rose family, for example. And since we're confessing, I took a picture of the Linnaeus sculpture, too, but had no idea who it was until I saw it identified on someone's Spring Fling post:) At least I recognized the name then.

  20. I have Queen Anne's Lace planted in my rose bed and thus far I haven't lived to regret it. I'll pass on the Aegopodium, though!

  21. I walked by my bed of bishop's weed and saw an 'umbel' and thought of you and your umbel post. I like to know which family a plant belongs to , too, and like to recognize those relationships. I think the soil is 'poor' enough and it is dry enough here that a lot of invasive plants do okay here. I am lovin' my bishop's weed!

  22. Carol — I love these kind of posts; though I am less enamored of the plant name changes. Once I learn them I find it really hard to replace them with the new name. And I took care of my Bishop's weed problem by moving and leaving it for the new owners to deal with!


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