Jepson (2012) (APG System)



Jepson (1993) (Cronquist System)



Apiaceae is a widely distributed plant family, with many species in California. The native California species are mostly herbaceous perennials or biennials, although some are annuals. This family is known for the arrangement of its flowers in umbels (disks of flowers). The flowers are very attractive for a wide variety of pollinators. As a result, these plants are often useful in hedgerows and companion plantings as habitat for beneficial insects. Although this is often called the carrot family, the name Apiaceae refers to the genus Apium (celery). It also indirectly refers to bees (Apies).

Members of Apiaceae are often aromatic, and many are used as culinary herbs (eg - lomatium, dill (Anethum), coriander (Coriandrum), cumin (Cuminum), parsley (Petroselinum) and anise (Pimpinella)). They produce fragrant seeds as well (eg - caraway (Carum) and fennel (Foeniculum)). The aromas started as defense chemicals against herbivores such as deer or insects. At the extreme, some of these plants are poisonous (eg - Poison hemlock (Conium)).

They commonly produce taproots, often used for food source by humans and wildlife. Some examples are yampah (Perideridia), carrot (Daucus), fennel (Foeniculum) and parsnip (Pastinaca).

Some of the introduced plants can be fast growing and aggressive, quickly occupying good, but disturbed soil. This makes them good agricultural plants, but it also makes them potential weeds. For example, fennel (Foeniculum) is an escaped garden plant that is now a frequent and tenaceous weed. Carrot (Daucus) has also escaped from the garden, and can be regularly seen along roadsides, where it is referred to as Queen Anne's Lace.

However, most Apiaceae, including the California species, tend to be limited in their habitat range, often restricted to sunny sites that have low moisture stress, such as moist soil, wetlands or north facing slopes. This, combined with their generally small size, makes it difficult to find appropriate and reliable locations for them in restoration projects.


Dicot Plant Families

Plant Relationships

Native Genera:


(Cow parsnip)

(Sweet cicely)

Other Common Genera:


(Water hemlock)
(Poison hemlock)

Related Families
(Jepson 2012)


Related Families
(Jepson 1993)



Growth Forms:

Most are annuals and herbaceous perennials. Some are shrubs or trees in other parts of the world, but none in California. Apiaceae are often taprooted or may have a tuberous root. Less often, they are rhizomatous or have fibrous roots.




The leaves are generally bunched around the base in a sort of rosette. The leaves often are pinnately compound.


The flowers are borne on tall, hollow stems, and arranged in a disk at the top. The flower disk is called an umbel. This provided the original name for this family, the Umbelliferae.

Seed and Fruit:

The seeds have a flattened, almost heart shaped appearance. The seed coat may be hard or papery. The seed tends to stay on the plant from one to three weeks after ripening.

Growing Conditions

Sun and Exposure:

Most members of Apiaceae grow in full sun, especially on north facing slopes or near the coast. Some grow in shade or partial shade.

Soil and Moisture Requirements:

Members of Apiaceae prefer good, moist soil that only has low growing plants on it. Sometimes, these conditions can last for long periods of time on north facing slopes, in moist grasslands and on coastal bluffs. Often, however, these are found in disturbed sites, such as landslides, roadcuts or erosive soils. As a result, some of Apiaceae are members of stable plant communities while others are weeds.

Many members of this family have taproots. This is also an indicator of an early successional species, because taproots are often necessary to break through massive or poorly structured soils.

Horticulture and Restoration

Horticultural Comments:

Many members of Apiaceae are used in agriculture. These are fast growing plants found in full sun that respond well to good soil and irrigation. Most will respond well to, or at least tolerate irrigation. They benefit from rich, well drained soil. These are also typical conditions in landscape beds and home gardens.

Wildlife Habitat:

The flowers are highly attractive to a wide variety of pollinators. The foliage and stems, however, are aromatic and repellent to herbivores. We don't see much insect or deer damage on plants from this family.

As mentioned earlier, members of Apiaceae are good candidates for hedgerows and companion plantings because they attract a wide variety of insects, including insect predators.

Restoration Projects:

The characteristics that make them good for gardens and agriculture make them difficult to use in restoration projects. Where do you find rich, well drained and moist soil, where it stays sunny, with no shrubs, trees or tall weeds? This is possible in a newly disturbed site, but is hard to maintain as the other plants attempt to colonize or dominate it. The members of Apiaceae are small, and depend on restrictive site conditons to keep larger plants stunted or absent.

There are few long-term or late successional stages where this will work. The two that come to mind are a coastal bluff and the interface of a woodland and grassland. Even in all these locations, you still have to find the right soil conditions, such as available moisture, partial shade, north facing slopes, etc. Some of the shade tolerant Apiaceae grow in a woodland understory.

California Native
Plant Guide

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