Biennials Gardening

The Moon Carrot: Queen of the Umbels

Pink and white flowers of the moon carrot.

By Larry Hodgson

The moon carrot? I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it. Yet, it’s a very beautiful plant … and above all, highly original. But also rare. It’s not one you’ll see in most nurseries, but at least the seeds are widely available if you want to try it.

Botanical name: Seseli gummiferum

Family: Apiaceae

Plant type: biennial

Height: 24 to 48 inches (60 to 120 cm)

Width: 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm)

Exposure: sun, partial shade

Soil: well drained

Flowering: summer, early autumn

Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

The appearance of the moon carrot is so unique that it seems to come from another planet or—why not!—the moon. And it is indeed from the carrot family: the Apiaceae or umbellifers, so-called because the flowers are grouped together forming an umbrellalike dome.

Why is such an easy-to-grow, beautiful plant not better known? I put the blame on it being a biennial. 

Modern gardeners are strangely unfamiliar with biennials. We grow annuals (one-year wonders) and perennials (multi-year bloomers) galore, but other than maybe foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), we’re just not used to these monocarpic plants that spend the first year of their life producing leaves and the second flowering … then die and start all over again from seed. Yet, they’re so simple to grow: you just let them self-sow!

I’ve been growing this plant for about 15 years now, since I first saw it at the Montreal Botanical Garden. It was so stunning, I just had to try it. I couldn’t find plants in any of the local nurseries, but a surprising number of seed companies offered it, so I ordered it by mail. Sowing it was fairly straight forward (see Culture below) and it grew strongly and beautifully, although only self-sowing to a very limited degree. Still, it still pops up every year, here and there, in my rock garden.

Description

Moon carrot plants in a flower bed
The moon carrot creates a beautiful effect in any flower bed. Photo: anuaed.ee

This plant begins its life as a rosette of fleshy, finely cut, chalk blue leaves about 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) tall the first year: already very striking. The second season, up rises a thick curiously zigzagging stem and even more of those bluish leaves that charmed you the first year. At the top of the stem and on secondary branches form large umbels composed of balls of pale pink flowers, soon turning white, which persist much of summer and well into fall. One seed company calls it the Queen of the Umbels: I would certainly agree!

Like any good biennial, the moon carrot dies after flowering, unless you force it to perennialize by removing the flower stalk before its flowers go to seed. Since this thwarts its need to reproduce by seed, it will send up a new stem or two from its base to try again. It will then bloom again the following year … but if you repeat this pruning annually, once again keeping it from going to seed, the plant can live for several years. However, if you forget to cut it back just once, it will produce seeds and then die. Fortunately, it will self-sow and therefore come back again: all it needs is a bit of open soil nearby where the seeds can germinate.

Behind the Name

Seseli is the genus name and comes from the ancient Greek word for a plant in the carrot family. But what does gummiferum mean? Well, break off a stem or a leaf and you’ll find out. The plant gives off a “gummy” sap which is, apparently, edible. The entire plant is likewise edible, and possibly medicinal, but I was unable to find out much more about those aspects.

Culture

Moon carrot in a raised bed.
The moon carrot always steals the show. Photo: specialplants.net

This plant, native to mountainous regions around Ukraine and Turkey, prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. It’s well adapted to dry climates and will tolerate drought very well. Soil quality seems to be unimportant: it grows just as well in a rich, reasonably moist, acidic soil as it does in a poor, dry, limy one. Avoid very dense clay soils: they tend to stay too wet in the spring and if there is one thing the moon carrot won’t tolerate, it’s soggy soil. It’s used to a hard-knock life, so you won’t need to fertilize it or improve its soil: it will grow in rocks or sand if that is all that is available!

Multiplication

The most logical way to grown moon carrots would be to sow the seed in the fall, as it needs to be exposed to a few weeks of cold moist conditions before it can germinate. However, you can also sow it outdoors early in the spring when the soil is still cold, giving it its cold treatment that way. 

Indoors, start the seed about 10 weeks before the last frost date, barely covering the seed with sowing mix. Seal the pot in a clear plastic bag and place in the refrigerator or other cold spot for three weeks so the seeds can undergo the cold treatment they require, then bring the pot into warmth and light (light is needed for germination). Then plant out when the air and the soil have warmed up.

Subsequently, the plant will likely maintain itself in your garden by self-sowing.

Normally, you can’t divide moon carrot, as it produces only a single rosette with no offsets. However, if you perennialize it, it will divide at the base and you can carefully dig up and replant the divisions.

Uses

With its chalk-blue foliage and curious flowers, it would look best in prominent location in a rock garden, well-drained flower bed or in a container garden.

Problems

Infrequent.

Kissing Cousins

The genus Seseli comprises some 120 to 145 species, but the moon carrot is the only one that seems to enjoy any horticultural popularity.

Where to Find Moon Carrot Seeds?

On the Internet! For such a rare plant in gardens, it’s surprising how many vendors offer seeds of this plant. Enter the botanical name Seseli gummiferum into your favorite search engine and you will find dozens of suppliers.


Moon carrot: the Queen of the Umbels is a stunning plant and deserves much greater popularity!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

7 comments on “The Moon Carrot: Queen of the Umbels

  1. Dave in edmonton

    quite nice! though I would say, not hugely different from a normal carrot. some while back you had a post on growing greens from “leftovers”; turnip, celery, green onion etc. Including for carrot tops. So I tried it, eventually putting it outside in the garden. it ended up a sprawling thing, about 3 ft stems, with a diameter the same. boy did I get a lot of comments! No one could figure out what it was.

    i wanted to add a pic but can;t see how … help?

    did about the same a few years ago by accident with parsnip, missed one digging them out in the fall. about 4 ft tall, lovely yellow flowers, same umbel.

  2. I have been growing plant for 50 odd years & with the internet, I learned a lot more. I first saw the Oregon grape & was eight & amazed at the plant. I have seen a lot of different plant, I knew carrots are biannal & had a nice seed show, the 2nd year.
    I never heard of a “Moon Carrot”, that is why I got on the soap box above, I should have heard of this weird looking plant.
    The Horse tail fern,the Flying Dragon Trifoliate Orange Tree & many other weird/different plants, yet I missed the Moon Carrot.
    Thank you for the leg up, I am going to grow it. I wonder if you can eat the unopened blooms like broccoli.

  3. It is pretty, but almost too pretty. I still like the wild carrot as a wildflower. I do not think I would ever grow it in the garden though, unless it just happened to appear on its own. There is plenty of it about. This one is a bit too refined to be a wildflower, although . . . . I could get used to it if it just happened to show up too. Of course, since it doesn’t grow wild here, it won’t show up in my garden. I can see why those who enjoy cut flower more, and have more discriminating taste, would like this one.

  4. They remind me of steppe fennel..

  5. robyn tevah

    I just saw one for the first time yesterday, in a small local rose garden and immediately felt I had to have it. Came home to a shipment from Digging Dog (which doesn’t have a ton of photos) to see I had already ordered it. I’m enamored of silvery blue leaves, and that structure even without flowers is so cool!

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