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Hairy sweet Cicely is a delicate plant, beautiful when you really look closely but sometimes innocuous and easy to miss. Like other members of the carrot or parsley family, when crushed it gives off a pleasant odour sometimes compared to anise, especially the root. It has small compound umbels carrying fewer white flowers than one would see on its cousin, Queen Anne’s lace. A perennial woodland plant, its alternating leaves are palmately lobed, hairy and toothed. The fruit is flat and long with a bristly hook. It flowers between May and June.
A woodland inhabitant, hairy sweet Cicely prefers moist, rich forest soils with dappled light. It can most often be found along rivers in forests and upland hardwood stands.
Cicely is another rare native plant that is actually quite easy to grow. Seeds are collected once they turn dark brown and plant as soon as possible every 2 inches (5 cm) in rows 4 inches (10 cm) apart, at a depth of 1/4 inch (6 mm). Cover with a light mulch, and most seeds will germinate in the spring.
These unassuming forest pollinator plants are integral to spring pollination. Most woodland wildflowers utilize the spring light before many tree leaf buds open to flower, a time of year when early native pollinators are in short supply for nectar and pollen.
Areas of Usage:
Hairy sweet Cicely prefers moist, rich soils with dappled deciduous light. They are excellent plants for woodland restoration and along trails. Food for early pollinators and its relative rarity add ecological values for forests, and its pleasing smells and delicate beauty add many aesthetic values for the people who walk those woods. Although it will not tolerate much wind, light or dry soils, it is still adaptable to sheltered and shaded sections of yards and wildflower beds. Definitely not a good choice for exposed seaside plantings.
A very noticeable identifier in the mid to late summer season are the locally-unique hooked seeds of the hairy sweet Cicely. If you are ever weeding a bed with these plants in August, you’ll quickly understand, as your pants and shirt will be covered in these prickly seeds. This is actually an ingenious strategy for seed dispersal. Evolving alongside furry mammals, hairy sweet Cicely specialized its seeds to catch a ride, helping to reduce competition between the parent plant and its offspring.