This herbaceous perennial plant produces a few basal leaves that are
1-4" long and a little less across; they
are usually oval-cordate in shape and their margins are
crenate-serrate. Less often, the basal leaves are trifoliate. The
petioles of the basal leaves are slender and about 1-4" long. During
the spring, a flowering plant develops that branches
occasionally; it is about 1-3' tall. The stems of this plant are light
green, terete, and glabrous, while its alternate leaves are
trifoliate (rarely are they ternately trifoliate). The leaflets of
these compound leaves are 1-2" long and about one-half as much across;
they are lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate in shape and their margins are
serrate-crenate. A few leaflets may be sharply divided into 1-2 lobes,
but this is atypical. Both the basal leaves and leaflets of the
alternate leaves have upper and lower surfaces that are green and
glabrous. The petioles of the alternate leaves are less than 1" long;
they are enveloped in sheaths. The petiolules (basal stalklets) of the
terminal leaflets are ¼-1" long, while the petiolules of the lateral
leaflets are less than ¼" long.
The upper stems terminate in compound
umbels of flowers that span 1-3" across. Each compound umbel has 6-12
rays (floral stalks) that terminate in small umbellets of
flowers; the rays are light green to pale purplish green, grooved along
their upper sides, and glabrous. Each umbellet has 5-12 rays
about 4 mm. long that terminate in individual flowers. Each
flower is about 2-3 mm. across, consisting of 5 maroon (reddish purple)
petals, a short green or purplish green calyx with 5 teeth, 5 stamens,
and a 2-celled ovary with a pair of styles. The tips of the petals are
strongly incurved toward the center of each flower. Underneath the
compound umbel and each umbellet, there are 0-3 floral bracts.
If these floral
bracts are present, that are linear-lanceolate in
shape, small in size, and early-deciduous. The blooming period
occurs from mid-spring to early summer, lasting about 3-4 weeks.
Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by small fruits about 4 mm. in
length that are broadly ellipsoid-oblongoid in shape and strongly
winged. Each fruit consists of a pair of carpels that each enclose a
single seed. The carpels can be blown about by the wind to a limited
extent. The root system consists of a taproot.
The preference is full sun to light shade, mesic to dry-mesic
conditions, and practically any kind of soil, including those that
contain clay-loam and rocky material.
native Purple Meadow Parsnip occurs primarily in the southern half of
Illinois, where it is uncommon, while in the northern half of the state
it is rare or absent. It should be noted that the
available distribution map does not distinguish between the two
varieties of this species, Thaspium
Meadow Parsnip) and Thaspium
Parsnip). The latter variety is the more common of the two and its
range extends further north. Habitats for both varieties consist of
rocky upland woodlands, rocky bluffs, upland oak savannas, woodland
borders and openings, prairies,
streambanks, and roadsides.
The nectar and
pollen of the maroon flowers attract primarily flies and beetles.
Robertson (1929) observed a dance fly (Empis loripedis
from the flowers, while the author (or content partner) of this website
observed an unidentified beetle feeding on the pollen. The caterpillars
of two butterflies,
Papilio polyxenes asterias
(Black Swallowtail) and
(Ozark Swallowtail), feed on the foliage of Thaspium
(Meadow Parsnip). Although the latter
butterfly has not
been observed in Illinois thus far, it has been found in neighboring
Missouri. An aphid, Aphis
, sucks juices from the umbels of the
Along a roadside in southern Illinois.
Because of its striking maroon flowers, Purple Meadow Parsnip can be
easily distinguished from other similar species in the Carrot family.
This does not apply to the other variety of this species, Yellow
Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium
), which has yellow flowers.
In general, Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium
) is very similar to
(Golden Alexanders) and Zizia aptera
Alexanders). However, the latter two species have fruits that are
ribbed, rather than strongly winged, and the central flowers of their
umbellets are sessile (or nearly so). Unlike Meadow Parsnip and
Heart-Leaved Alexanders, the common Golden Alexanders has compound
basal leaves and its alternate leaves are often ternately trifoliate.
It also prefers habitats that are more moist.