Polytaenia nuttallii (Prairie Parsley)

Plant Info
Also known as: Nuttall's Prairie Parsley
Family:Apiaceae (Carrot)
Life cycle:biennial, short-lived perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:sun; average to dry soil; prairies, plains, savannas, open woods
Bloom season:June
Plant height:20 to 40 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Several flat to dome-shaped clusters (umbels) at the top of the stem and arising from upper leaf axils. Umbels are 2 to 5 inches across, made up of 10 to 20 smaller clusters (umbellets), each about 1 inch across with 10 to 15, 1/8-inch flowers. Individual flowers have 5 yellow petals surrounded by 5 green sepals, all folded inward. Alternating with the petals are 5 yellow-tipped stamens much longer than the petals. Umbellets in the center of the umbel may be all or mostly male (staminate) flowers.

[photo of umbel base] There are no persistent bracts at the base of an umber, but are typically a few thread-like bracts at the base of an umbellet. Flower, umbel and umbellet stalks are all ribbed with minute hairs along the ribs giving a rough texture.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound Leaf type: lobed

[photo of basal leaf] Leaves are 2 or 3 times compound, roughly triangular in outline, the leaflets hairless and deeply lobed to coarsely toothed. Basal and lower leaves are largest and long stalked, up to 7 inches long and nearly as wide. Stem leaves are alternate and mostly widely separated.

[photo of mid-stem leaf] Leaves become shorter stalked and less divided as they ascend the stem, becoming stalkless in the upper plant. Stems are erect, unbranched or few-branched, ribbed, and may have minute hairs along the ribs especially in the upper plant.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed_without_plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is generally oval, slightly flattened, ¼ to 1/3 inch (to 9mm) long, and split into 2 seeds.

[photo of seed]  Seeds mature from green to yellow to golden.


Prairie Parsley reaches the northern tip of its range in Minnesota, but is likely now extinct in the state. There are only 2 records of it from the Lanesboro area in Fillmore County, both over 100 years old. In its native range, it is found in high quality prairie and rarely found in areas of disturbance, such as roadsides. Considering the destruction of native prairie for agricultural and commercial development, it is no wonder this species has been in decline at least in the periphery of its range. According to the DNR, it was listed as a Special Concern species in 1996, though there isn't much hope of discovering any new populations.

Prairie Parsley may remain as a basal rosette of leaves for 2 or more years before bolting and producing flowers and fruit, after which the plant dies. Though it may produce abundant fruit, surprisingly little of it germinates. The leaves are more finely divided than other yellow-flowering members of the carrot family, such as Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), Hairy-jointed Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium barbinode) or Alexanders (Zizia species). If you ever find this in the wild in Minnesota, please let us know.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in his garden. Photo by Pieter B. Pelser used by permission via PhytoImages.


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