Sweet Cicely and Aniseroot

Once on a nature hike, when I was just getting into native plants, someone pointed out a medium height forb with airy, ferny foliage and clusters of little white flowers, and called it sweet cicely. For years I didn’t question that identification, until one day I came across a discussion about it on-line. Seems there’s another species that’s almost identical to sweet cicely, called aniseroot. The two are closely related and at first glance almost identical in appearance. Osmorhiza claytonii and Osmorhiza longistylis (Apiaceae): what had I been seeing all those years?

The only way to answer that question was to go back through my pictures and look for identifying details. Fortunately, there are three characteristics that are easy to see.

O. claytonii

sweet cicely

O. longistylis

aniseroot

stem hairy smooth
flowers per umbellet 4-10 9-18
length of styles shorter than petals longer than petals
scent faint or none anise

I’d love to illustrate this post with current photos, but I’m still avoiding the trails, so I had to go through old photos and re-process them to show these features.
below left: smooth stem                                below right: hairy stem

Always examine the whole plant in order to identify it. Sometimes sweet cicely will have more flowers, but overall it should have fewer than 10 per umbellet. Sometimes aniseroot will have fewer flowers, but overall it should have more than 10 per umbellet. Sometimes stems will be slightly hairy, and sometimes the styles will be just as long as the petals. Individual plants vary. But if you consider all these characteristics, it should be easy to tell which species you have.

What had I been seeing all these years? Ends up, I’d been seeing both. They grow in similar habitats.