Botanical name: Pastinaca sativa Family: Apiaceae (Carrot family)
Synonyms: Pastinaca sylvestris
Parsnip is a herbaceous plant is 2-5 ft tall, branching occasionally. The stems are hairless, angular, and furrowed. The alternate leaves are oddly pinnate, consisting of about 9 leaflets that are more or less hairless. The lower compound leaves are up to 18 inches long and 6 inches across; they have long leaf-stalks. The upper compound leaves are substantially smaller; they have short leaf-stalks. The individual leaflets are up to 3 inches long, 2 inches across, and ovate or elliptic in outline; they often have cleft lobes and coarse teeth along the margins. The upper stems terminate in compound umbels of tiny yellow flowers. Each compound umbel has a long naked flower-cluster-stalk and spans about 3-8 inches across when fully mature; it is flat-topped. A compound umbel consists of about 15-25 umbellets, and each umbellet has about 12-35 flowers. Both floral bracts and floral bractlets are absent. Each flower is about 3 mm across, consisting of 5 yellow petals, a greenish yellow nectar pad, and insignificant sepals. The tiny petals are initially folded toward each other, but they eventually curve outward. The blooming period typically occurs from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1-2 months; a few plants may bloom later in the year. Each flower is replaced by a schizocarp containing a single seed. The seeds are flattened and winged; they are blown about by the wind. The root of a stout carrot-shaped fleshy taproot with a distinctive aroma. The parsnip is native to Eurasia. It has been used as a vegetable since antiquity and was cultivated by the Romans, although some confusion exists in the literature of the time between parsnips and carrots. It was used as a sweetener before the arrival in Europe of cane sugar. It was introduced into the United States in the 19th century.
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