Wonderful World of Native Plants

Spring parsley springs forth


Many of you have already noticed a small, ground-hugging plant with pale purplish striped flowers that is a harbinger of early spring throughout the state.

It often appears in mid-February, but this year several native plant enthusiasts have noted that it did not appear until early March.

Vesper constancei, known commonly as wide-winged spring parsley or Constance's spring parsley, is found in a variety of habitats and soils in the Four Corners states. It is named in honor of Lincoln Constance of the University of California, who studied the botanical family of parsleys, Apiaceae.

It has fleshy, pale grey-green leaves divided into lobed leaflets, much like the culinary parsley we know, and branched flower heads surrounded by papery bracts. Flowers are dull-white or purplish with long, purple-tipped stamens.

It has a taproot that may be several inches long. All parts of the plant are reported to be edible.

The parsley family includes many common culinary herbs, such as celery, cilantro, cumin, dill and fennel as well the edible roots of carrots and parsnips. But surprisingly, some of the deadliest plants in North America are also in the parsley family, most notably water hemlock of which there are four species in the genus Cicuta.

This column is printed every second Thursday of the month. For suggestions or questions, please contact us at TaosNPS@gmail.com or call (575) 751-0511.

Martenson is the president of the Taos Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico and a member of the board of NPSNM.