carrot, common name for some members of the Umbelliferae, a family (also called the parsley family) of chiefly biennial or perennial herbs of north temperate regions. Most are characterized by aromatic foliage, a dry fruit that splits when mature, and an umbellate inflorescence (a type of flattened flower cluster in which the stems of the small florets arise from the same point, like an umbrella). The seeds or leaves of many of these herbs have been used for centuries for seasoning or as greens (e.g., angelica, anise, caraway, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, and parsley). The carrot, celery, and parsnip are vegetables of commercial importance. The common garden carrot (Daucus carota sativa) is a root crop, probably derived from some variety of the wild carrot (or Queen Anne's lace). Although the common carrot in markets is now predominantly orange, carrots range in color from white to purple. In antiquity several types of carrot were grown as medicinals, and in Europe carrots have long been grown for use in soups and stews. The custom of eating carrots raw as a salad became widespread in the 20th cent. Carrots are a rich source of carotene (vitamin A), especially when they are cooked. Several types of carrot have also been cultivated since ancient times as aromatic plants. Some are still planted as fragrant garden ornamentals, such as the button snakeroot and sweet cicely. A few members of the Umbelliferae produce lethal poison; it was one of these, the poison hemlock, that Socrates was compelled to take. The water hemlock is also poisonous. Carrots are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Umbellales, family Umbelliferae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Plants