This favorite wildflower flaunts new colors.

John Scheepers

If it’s a crime, it’s a violation I can live with. Someone fiddled with Queen’s Anne lace, whose flat-topped clusters of doily-shaped blooms turn meadows and roadsides to white in early summer. Now there’s a new kind called ‘Dara.’ Its blossoms open white and then deepen to pink and burgundy, often all three colors present at once. As much as it pains me to mess with Mother Nature, I think ‘Dara’ is dandy.

People often believe Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is native, because it’s so widespread and easy to grow. In fact, it’s indigenous to Europe and was brought here by colonists along with its close relative, the carrot. The main difference between the two plants is that the carrot grows a large, tasty root, while the root of Queen Anne’s lace is small and inedible. The latter atones by producing showy clusters, 3 to 5 inches wide, of multitudinous tiny flowers atop stalks 3 to 4 feet tall. Usually, all the blooms are white, but occasionally you’ll find a cluster with a single red flower smack in the middle. My guess is this is where the new colors come from.

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Start ‘Dara’ by sowing seeds directly into the garden in spring and barely covering them. You’ll know them when they germinate. The foliage looks just like that of a carrot. They like full to part sun, almost any type of soil, and any climate zone. This explains why you see them all over. Seed catalogs imply that they’ll bloom the first year. I kinda doubt it, as Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial, rather than an annual. This means it grows foliage the first year, blooms and sets seeds the second, and then dies, returning the following year from seeds that it dropped before.

Blooms make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. Cut the stem and cluster when three-quarters of its little flowers have opened. Spent clusters will eventually curl up to form a brown seed head that looks like a bird’s nest. Save a couple to sow seeds with next year. Remove the other spent flowers to keep new clusters coming and unwanted seedlings from sprouting all over.

Some may scoff at planting a common “weed” that isn’t native, but this one is so dang pretty you can make an exception. It’s a great choice for natural areas, cottage gardens, wildflower meadows, and pollinator gardens. Bees, butterflies, and other insects gorge on its nectar. And its foliage feeds caterpillars of black swallowtail butterflies.

Here are some online sources for ‘Dara,’ so you can start seeds this spring: John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Select Seeds.

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