The Great Wild Carrot Hunt

In the coming months Tatum and I will be taking an epic road trip right through the heart of the country from our home here in Portage out to San Diego to see some old friends, up the California coast, and then back home with stops at the Boise Fry Company and Yellowstone National Park. Along the way I will be sampling some wild carrot plants as part of a project to map the population genetics of wild carrot.

In the three photos directly below, the first shows off the white flower of wild carrot. Occasionally, the flower will have a purple (it looks black to me) small flower at the center. Not all flowers have it, but if it does, that’s a good indicator you’ve got yourself wild carrot. The second photo is a field of carrot at a compost site here in Wisconsin. Wild carrot seems to be a pretty bad competitor, but when you level the playing field via a single mow in spring, the wild carrot goes crazy. There’s a pretty clear difference in carrot density in areas that were mowed versus areas that were not. Finally, the bottom picture shows some carrot leaves, I don’t have a ton (or maybe any) good photos of carrot leaves (you’re welcome to Google it) but on the right side of the photo and the bottom half there are wild carrot leaves.

There are a handful of noxious plants that have similarities to wild carrot, though each is pretty easy to discern. Wild carrot look-a-likes may have giant leaves (link), may have yellow flowers (link) or a couple may have purple splotches on the stem or fine fern-like leaves (video). Wild carrot has (usually) several white flowers on one plant, one main stem with a flower and up to 6 branches coming off the main stem with flowers of their own. It grows between 2′-4′ (shorter plants can flower if mowed repeatedly) and has white whispy hairs on the stem. If you’re unsure, leave it be!

Back to the project! A postdoc in the lab, Luciano, has already found some pretty cool preliminary results with respect to some East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast samples we’ve obtained. To fill in this preliminary map, I’ll be collecting from as many populations as feasible (3-5 per state). We are testing to see if there are gradients across the country or perhaps full on breaks, say because of mountains or other gene flow barriers. This is a really great opportunity for me, Luciano, and Johanne. You can help us, too (folks outside Wisconsin)! I am looking for some locations to sample wild carrot along the route so I don’t end up on a wild goose chase. The route we’ll be taking is below:


The states and cities we’ll be going through include: Iowa (Dubuque, Iowa City, Des Moines), Nebraska (Omaha, Lincoln, North Platte), Colorado (Julesburg, Denver, Grand Junction), Utah (Green River, Salina, St. George), Arizona (Beaver Dam), Nevada (Mesquite, Las Vegas), California (Baker, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento), Nevada again (Reno), Oregon (McDermitt, Rome), Idaho (Boise, Pocatello, Idaho Falls), Wyoming (Pinedale, Casper), South Dakota (Rapid City, Sioux Falls), and Minnesota (Luverne, Albert Lea, Rochester).

If you live in or around those cities, or travel along the route, and know of some locations that have wild carrot populations (it’s pretty ubiquitous here in the Midwest, but not so much so in places like Utah and Nevada), send me a message at daucus.carota.locations(at) I would love an address or GPS location of something fairly accessible from the major highways (obviously collecting along the interstates is frowned upon!). It’s going to be an epic adventure and Tatum and I would love your help!

I’ve already gotten some help from some great folks at the herbaria of University of Colorado, Drake University, Iowa State University, and Utah State University. I have found the SEIN network page for D. carota and it is super helpful, the only drawback is that many of the records are quite old and some places are not yet accounted for. I plan to use DIVA-GIS in the next few days to make a map of where I might expect to find them and will post that here soon!

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