Osmorhiza longistylis villicaulis
Carrot family (Apiaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is about 2' tall, branching occasionally. The stems are light green or reddish green and covered with long white hairs (in this variety of Aniseroot). The alternate leaves are ternately compound; the lower compound leaves are up to 1' long with long petioles, while the upper compound leaves are much smaller. Each compound leaf is divided into 3 compound leaflets; the terminal compound leaflet is the largest. Each compound leaflet is further divided into 3 leaflets; the terminal leaflet is the largest. Each leaflet is more or less shallowly cleft or coarsely crenate along its margins. In this variety of Aniseroot, there are scattered fine hairs across the upper surface of the foliage.
Some of the upper stems terminate in compound umbels of white flowers. There are about 5 umbellets per compound umbel. An umbellet usually has 8-16 flowers and several linear-lanceolate bracts at its base. An umbellet is 12" across and its flowers are crowded together. Each tiny flower has 5 white petals that are notched at their tips, 5 white stamens, and a white slender stigma that is at least 2 mm. long (about as long or a little longer than the petals). The blooming period occurs during the late spring or very early summer and lasts about 2-3 weeks. The seeds are long, slender, 5-ribbed, and slightly bristly along the edges. The root system consists of a thick taproot with a strong anise scent.
Cultivation: The preference is light shade or dappled sunlight, moist to mesic conditions, and rich loamy soil. In a garden situation, it will probably thrive in a sheltered area underneath a tree.
Range & Habitat: Aniseroot occurs in most counties of central and northern Illinois, where it is occasional to locally common; in southern Illinois, it is often uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). This distribution map combines information for the two varieties of Aniseroot; the hairy variety, described here, is slightly less common than the typical variety. Habitats include mesic deciduous woodlands on level ground and the slopes of ravines, particularly in Maple-Basswood woodlands.
Faunal Associations: The nectar of the flowers attracts short-tongued bees (Halictid bees primarily), Nomadine Cuckoo bees, and various flies; some of the short-tongued bees also collect pollen. Less common insect visitors to the flowers are wasps and beetles. The caterpillars of the butterfly Papilio polyxenes asturias (Black Swallowtail) feed on the foliage. The bristly seeds can cling to the fur of mammals and the feathers of birds; these animals help to disperse the seeds across considerable distances.
Photographic Location: A mesic deciduous woodland at Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois. In the lower photograph, fine white hairs are observable on the terminal leaflet to the far right if you look closely.
Comments: The typical variety of Aniseroot has hairless stems. This species closely resembles Osmorhiza claytonii (Sweet Cicely) and is often confused with it. However, Sweet Cicely has only 4-7 flowers per umbellet, while Aniseroot usually has 8-16 flowers per umbellet (less often 7). The styles in the flowers of Sweet Cicely are up to 1.5 mm (shorter than the petals), while the styles in the flowers of Aniseroot are at least 2.0 mm (as long or longer than the petals). Another difference between these two species is the appearance of the foliage: the leaflets of Sweet Cicely are more deeply cleft than the leaflets of Aniseroot, otherwise they are quite similar. To distinguish an Osmorhiza spp. from other white-flowered members of the Carrot family, it is helpful to crush some foliage in one's hands: If it is an Osmorhiza spp., this should produce a noticeable anise scent. Aniseroot usually produces a stronger anise scent than Sweet Cicely, and its root can be used as a substitute for black licorice.