Southern Chervil – Chaerophyllum tainturieri – is a common wildflower and is widely distributed throughout North Carolina. Thus it seems odd that it is overlooked by many of the popular wildflower field guides including Newcomb’s and Peterson’s field guides, and Wild Flowers of North Carolina. Some consider it a weed, but it is missing from Bryson and DeFelice’s Weeds of the South. It is found in a field guide to the Northeastern states – Clements and Gracie’s Wildflowers in the Field and Forest. It is a plant with beautiful foliage but very tiny flowers, which may be why it is often overlooked.
Southern Chervil is a native annual which is also called Hairyfruit Chervil and Southern Wild Chervil. It is reliably found in disturbed areas and roadsides right at the Falls Lake Dam, and often along greenways throughout the Falls Lake area. It is a true winter annual, and its delicate, highly dissected leaves are a welcome contrast to the pine needles and brown leaves of winter, as shown in the following photograph taken in February.
In spring, the growth of foliage is explosive and the plant takes on a fern-like appearance. Southern Chervil is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) and serves as a host to Black Swallowtail caterpillars that feed on the fine foliage. Note the tiny white flowers against the green background.
The foliage sometimes turns red and does so surprisingly early. The following photo was taken last year in mid May.
Southern Chervil is a pilose (fuzzy) plant, with fine hairs covering the leaves and stems.
Close observation and excellent vision are required to see the 5 petals on the tiny, white flowers held in compound umbels.
The next two photographs provide closer views of the flowers.
The upright fruits are distinctive and help to identify the plant as a Chervil at an easy distance.
The garden culinary herb known as chervil comes from an entirely different plant: Anthriscus cerefolium. It is not native to North America but is grown here in gardens and sometimes escapes cultivation. It has not been reported from North Carolina. Southern Chervil is generally not used as a substitute for garden chervil.