|Queen Anne's Lace at the edge of a field.|
Many of the white flowers that are found in abundance in our open fields and road edges at this time are Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota ), sometimes called Wild Carrots. Our modern carrots are indeed descendants of a subspecies of this plant.
This plant is normally a biennial, flowering in its second year before it dies, but it sometimes takes 3-4 years for it to bloom if growing conditions are poor. It often grows to 3 feet tall and starts blooming from the outside of its flower cluster towards the middle, often blooming for a month or longer. Once done, the flower head dries and curls inwards. This resembles a bird's nest and the plants indeed are sometimes called Bird's Nests.
|Bird's Nest - the dried seed head of Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot|
Like our modern carrots and so many other members of the parsley/carrot family, they are edible, or at least the roots are when young and before they get woody, However, some other members of the family also have similar fern-like foliage and white flowers in flat clusters (umbels) but are actually poisonous (such as Poison and Water Hemlocks). There are differences though, and none have the carrot-like odor to their roots. If you do decide to try them, please make sure of your identification and also note that some people get a rash after handling the leaves if they are out in the sun, a common trait when skin is exposed to chemicals found in many members of the carrot family.
It's common name supposedly came about from an ancient legend. Queen Anne (either of Great Britain or Denmark depending on the version of the tale) was said to love to make lace. While "tatting" (making lace by hand), she supposedly pricked her finger and a drop of blood fell onto its center. The lace she was making became the white flowers of Queen Anne's Lace, with the reddish/purple sterile central floret most of the plants are adorned with being the spot where her blood droplet fell.
|A Queen Anne's Lace flower umbel. If you look closely you can see the dark central floret.|
|A late instar Black Swallowtail caterpillar|