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    One or more species of Osmorhiza (commonly called "Sweet Cicely") is found in every state except in Florida and Louisiana. The plant is often quite common, popping up in backyard gardens and forests. Stems, leaves, seeds, and especially roots often have a pleasant anise flavor and aroma, thus the Greek genus name: "osmo" for "smell" and "rhiza" for "root".  .

Three species of Osmorhiza found in the Four Corners mountains are shown below. Osmorhiza occidentalis is fairly easy to distinguish from Osmorhiza berteroi (Synonym: O. chilensis) and Osmorhiza depauperata, but the latter two are very difficult to distinguish from each other. As indicated by my photographs and comments below and by the following descriptions from the Jepson Manual, O. berteroi and O. depauperata are primarily separated by the shape of their inflorescences and fruits.

Note that the most recent botanical classification eliminates Osmorhiza chilensis (which still appears in Weber's Colorado Flora) and splits it into three taxa, O. berteroi, O. depauperata, and O. purpurea. The first two are found widely through the West; the latter is a West Coast species. The three are very similar looking.

O. berteroi (Synonym: O. chilensis)
Plant 3–12 dm, ± glabrous to finely hairy. 
Leaf: petiole 5–16 cm; blade 4–20 cm wide, widely ovate to obovate, 2- ternate, leaflets 2–8 cm, widely lanceolate to round, serrate to irregularly cut or lobed. 
Inflorescence: peduncle 5–25 cm; bractlets generally 0; rays 3–8, 2–12 cm, spreading- ascending; pedicels 4–20 mm. 
Flower: corolla white; styles generally < 1 mm; ovary tip projection conic; disk 0. 
Fruit: 12–25 mm, linear- fusiform or - oblong; tail 2–8.5 mm; beak slender; ribs bristly.

O. depauperata
Plant 1.5–8 dm, generally sparsely short-hairy to glabrous. 
Leaf: petiole 3–20 cm; blade 4–12 cm wide, widely ovate to round, 2–3- ternate, leaflets 1.5–5 cm, widely lanceolate to ovate, coarsely serrate to deeply cut. 
Inflorescence: peduncle 5–15 cm; bractlets generally 0; rays 2–5, 3–9 cm, spreading; pedicels 8–15 mm. 
Flower: corolla white; styles < 0.5 mm; ovary tip projection low- or depressed- conic; disk 0 or vestigial. 
Fruit: 10–18 mm, club-like; tail 3–8.5 mm; tip obtuse, beakless; ribs ± bristly. 

Osmorhiza depauperata
Osmorhiza depauperata.  Synonym: Osmorhiza chilensis variety cupressimontana.  (Dwarf Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring, summer.
Prairie Dog Knoll Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, June 25, 2004.

Osmorhiza depauperata is a wispy, very delicate plant easily over-looked even though it is very common.  It grows singly, as in this picture, or in large colonies lining trails. Tiny white flowers are grouped in equally tiny sprays.  These give way to long, very narrow seed pods. 

"Depauperata", meaning "diminutive", probably refers to Sweet Cicely’s very delicate, fragile form and tiny flowers.

Osmorhiza depauperata
Osmorhiza depauperata.  Synonym: Osmorhiza chilensis variety cupressimontana.  (Dwarf Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring, summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 14, 2006.
 

Osmorhiza depauperata

Osmorhiza depauperata

Osmorhiza depauperata

Osmorhiza depauperata.  Synonym: Osmorhiza chilensis variety cupressimontana.  (Dwarf Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring, summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 14, 2006 and Lower Calico Trail, June 7, 2013.

 

Osmorhiza depauperata
Osmorhiza depauperata.  Synonym: Osmorhiza chilensis variety cupressimontana.  (Dwarf Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring, summer.
Robertson Pasture Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, June 12, 2009.

Club-shaped seeds are in a wide open spray. The seeds will dry and blacken and anyone with a dog or wool socks knows the power of these seeds to attach themselves.

Osmorhiza depauperata
Osmorhiza depauperata.  Synonym: Osmorhiza chilensis variety cupressimontana.  (Dwarf Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring, summer.
Prairie Dog Knoll Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, August 17, 2009.

Fall colors are subdued, but quite handsome shades of reds.

Osmorhiza berteroi
Osmorhiza berteroi.  Synonym: Osmorhiza chilensis variety chilensis.  (Mountain Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands.  Spring, summer.
Prairie Dog Knoll Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, June 25, 2004.
Bear Creek Trail, July 1, 2004.

The flowers and seeds of Osmorhiza berteroi are in a compact spray, i.e., the pedicel (the individual flower stem) of each flower makes about a 30 degree angle with the peduncle (the stem of the entire flower cluster).  Osmorhiza depauperata flowers and seeds spread nearly at right angles to the main flower stem (see especially the last two photographs above of O. depauperata).  Osmorhiza berteroiSeeds of O. berteroi are nearly cylindrical; seeds of O. depauperata are club-shaped, i.e., widest at the tip.  Otherwise the plants are almost identical in appearance.

This plant was named Osmorhiza chilensis by Hooker and Arnott in December of 1833 from a collection made in Chile by Lay and Collie, and this plant name was used until 1993 when Kartesz and Gandhi published a paper showing that the plant had been named Osmorhiza berteroi in September of 1830 by Augustin de Candolle from a collection also by Lay and Collie. The berteroi specific epithet is now the accepted name. Carlo Bertero was an Italian physician and avid botanist. (Click to read more biographical information about Bertero.)

 

Osmorhiza occidentalis

Osmorhiza occidentalis

Osmorhiza occidentalis

Osmorhiza occidentalis

Osmorhiza occidentalis (Western Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, meadows. Spring, summer.
Echo Basin Loop Road, June 7, 2004 and Abajo Mountains, Utah, June 12, 2009.

The Osmorhiza occidentalis flower is so tiny and so spread on long stems that it is easily overlooked. Leaves are pointed and serrated; stems are thick and swaying.  Osmorhiza occidentalis can occur singly in open dry woods or in very large patches in moist woods.  Compare this Sweet Cicely to its even more common close relative, Osmorhiza depauperata.

Stems , leaves, seeds, and roots of Sweet Cicely often have a pleasant anise flavor and aroma, thus its Greek genus name: "osmo" for "smell" and "rhiza" for "root". "Occidentalis" is Latin for "Western".

Thomas Nuttall collected the first specimen of this plant in what is now Oregon in the early 1830s. He named it Glycosma occidentalis in 1840 and it was given its present name by John Torrey in 1858.

Osmorhiza occidentalis

Osmorhiza occidentalis (Western Sweet Cicely)
Apiaceae (Parsley Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, meadows. Spring, summer.
Fish Creek Trail, August 9, 2005.

Seed pods are a half inch to almost an inch long on very wide-spreading and noticeable stems.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Osmorhiza depauperata

Range map for Osmorhiza occidentalis  

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