Daucus's nearest plant neighbor was an older wild carrot, one of whose lower blossom stems was resting across the feathery leaf on which the caterpillar was creeping. When he touched this stem he climbed up on it and began to munch the leaves he found there.
One day Daucus's guest stopped being a caterpillar and became a chrysalis.
It was fortunate for Daucus that the caterpillar went when he did for he had grown old enough to need larger and larger carrot-leaf salads to satisfy his greedy appetite. The hungry visitor, however, had left Daucus enough of her feathery leaves so that her health was not injured. Her hardy tap-root was well and strong when fall came.
She rested quietly all winter and when the snow had melted and the ground was warmed by the spring sunshine she began her second season's growth.
Instead of having just a single tuft of leaves, as she had when she was one summer old, she grew a long branching leafy stem. At the tip of this stem and at the end of each branch there was a large compound cluster of small flowers. The slender little flower-stalks which formed a cluster started from a common center like the ribs of an open umbrella.
Such a blossom cluster is called an umbel. Since members of the Parsley Family have their flowers growing in this manner they are called umbel-bearing plants.
Wild carrot blossoms are white or very pale creamy yellow or sometimes tinged with light pink. And in the center of each large flat umbel is one flower (and sometimes several) of a dark rich red color.
All of Daucus's blossom clusters were like that except one of them. The flat cluster of blossoms that grew at the tip of her main stem was different from all the rest of her clusters. It was, indeed, different from all the other wild carrot clusters in Holiday Meadow. This cluster had a whole three-cornered section of dark red flowers which reached from the center of the umbel to the outer edge.
This blossom had a whole section of dark flowers.
This flower-cluster of Daucus's was so different from ordinary wild carrot blossoms that you may call it a "freak" or an "oddity" if you like. Perhaps no other wild carrot in the world ever had one exactly like it.
People have long admired the fine lacy blossoms of wild carrot. One name given the plant many years ago and still used is "Queen Anne's Lace." The graceful leaves have had their share of admiration, too. It is said that in the time of James I the court ladies wore them for plumes.
The slope near the river was covered with Queen Anne's Lace.
One day when Dick and his cousin were walking through Holiday Meadow they decided to find out how wild carrots tasted. So they dug up some of the tap-roots and were carrying them to the house when they met Uncle David.
"They are rather scraggly and lean looking," said Anne, "but I think I'll cook them so we can eat some for dinner."
"Please don't," said Uncle David, "that would be an unwise experiment."
"Why?" asked Dick.
"Well, it is commonly thought that wild carrots are poisonous."
"Are they really?" asked Anne.
"I do not know," replied her uncle. "I have often wondered whether some one once tasted a raw tough second-season root and it did not agree with him or whether even the cooked young roots are somewhat poisonous. But I never wanted so much to know that I was willing to find out by eating them, myself."
"You see," he went on, "the Parsley Family includes many plants that are not fit for food for man or beast and some of them are deadly dangerous.
"Poison hemlock is one of these. If cows eat the tender young leaves in the spring, they die. Children have died from eating the seeds which they mistook for those of the caraway. The 'cup of death' which was given to Socrates in Athens many centuries ago is thought to have been a brew of poison hemlock.
"Water hemlock is quite as bad. Its fleshy roots are said to have rather a pleasant taste, but one root is enough to kill a cow, and a person would risk death by eating a very little piece of a root."
Uncle David looked down at the roots Dick still held in his hand. Then he said gravely, "Some of the poisonous relatives of the parsley are not easily told from the harmless ones. Suppose we have an agreement that you two youngsters refrain from eating seeds, leaves or roots of wild umbel-bearers until you know more about them than you do at present."
"All right," said Dick, "only I don't understand about carrots. I thought I was being careful. I read my plant book and it said that garden carrots were descended from wild carrots."
"Most botanists believe that that is so," said his uncle, "and they call both the wild Queen Anne's lace and the cultivated carrot by the same name (Daucus Carota).
"It may be that in a certain locality in Europe some of the wild plants had plumper, more tender and better tasting roots than other strains. It may be some such variety that was first cultivated and continued to have edible roots. It is not unlikely that the roots of these wild plants differ somewhat in appearance and quality. You see how different this blossom is from all the others in the field." And he pointed to Daucus's freak flower-cluster.
Perhaps (who knows?) if the seeds of Daucus's rich red blossoms had ripened and grown, her daughter plants might have had dark flower-clusters and Holiday Meadow might have had a new color of Queen Anne's lace!
First the seed‑cluster is flat, then like a bird's nest, then like a ball.
One day as the clusters of green unripe seeds were becoming hollow like cups or birds' nests Dick and Anne heard their uncle say to his helper, "That meadow slope isn't fit for hay. Better plow the weeds under before the seeds are ripe. We'll put cultivated crops into that piece of land for a few years before we seed it to grass again."
Then the cousins remembered the gusty winter day when they had raced with the tumbling "birds' nests."
"They have been jolly weeds!" said Dick with a grin.