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Biology

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This annual plant tends to germinate in October and early November (2), and flowers between May and August (1). The seeds are not able to stay dormant for long, so the plant is at risk of local extinction during times of unsuitable habitat management (2).
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Conservation

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This plant is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) priority species. Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity, is the lead partner responsible for coordinating the implementation of the Species Action Plan devised to guide the conservation of shepherd's needle. This plan aims to maintain the current range of the plant and to aid the recolonisation of former sites. A further proposal is the establishment of an ex-situ population, which would provide a source for potential reintroductions, and preserve the genetic diversity of the species (2).
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Description

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Shepherd's needle is a member of the carrot family (3), has highly divided 'frizzy' pinnate leaves and produces tiny white flowers arranged in clusters called umbels (1). The fruits can reach up to 80 mm in length and are long, narrow and pointed; it is these structures that the common name refers to (1). The Latin name pecten-veneris means 'Venus's comb'; this name arose because the fruits tend to be arranged side-by-side, and were thought to look like a comb (4).
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Habitat

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Inhabits arable fields, wasteland and coastal sites subject to disturbance, and shows a preference for heavy clay soils (2).
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Range

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Once known throughout much of the UK, and considered common until the 1950s (5), this species has suffered a precipitous decline and is now restricted to the south and east of England (2). Elsewhere, the species occurs in Europe reaching north to Denmark and west to the UK, it has also declined in eastern and north-western Europe (2).
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Status

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Classified as Nationally Scarce in Great Britain (2).
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Threats

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Like many arable 'weed' species, shepherd's needle has suffered as a result of agricultural changes including the use of chemical fertilisers and herbicides, changes in crop rotation practices, the loss of field-margins and the introduction of highly competitive types of crops (2). A particular threat seems to have been stubble burning, which was banned in the early 1990s. Since the ban there is some evidence to suggest that the species has begun to recover in some areas (5).
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Distribution in Egypt

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Mediterranean region.

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Global Distribution

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Europe, Mediterranean region, western Asia, Northwest India.

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Comments

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Venus’s Comb is a very common species from the plains to 2000 m during the spring season.
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Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, 63110 USA
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Flora of Pakistan Vol. 0 in eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed Nov 12, 2008.
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S. I. Ali & M. Qaiser
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Description

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Plants up to 25 cm tall, pubescent or glabrescent, Leaves tripinnatisect; segments 1-4 mm long, linear; leaf bases sheathing; sheath margin ciliate or entire. Umbels terminal and lateral. Involucre of 1 linear bract or lacking. Rays 1-3, 1-2 (-4.) cm long. Involucel of several lanceolate, oval or ovate, ciliate bractlets, entire or incised at the apex. Fruit shortly pedicellate, 2.5-3.5 cm long; margin bristly; beak 2-3 times as long as the seed; style 1 mm long, twice as long as the stylopodium; furrows I-vittate; commissure 2-vittate; vittae minute. Inner seed face deeply sulcate.
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Flora of Pakistan Vol. 0 in eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed Nov 12, 2008.
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Distribution

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Distribution: Europe, Asia, and in Australia, North and South America as an alien.
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Flora of Pakistan Vol. 0 in eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed Nov 12, 2008.
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Scandix pecten-veneris

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Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd's-needle, Venus' comb, Stork's needle) is a species of edible plant belonging to the family Apiaceae. It is native to Eurasia, but is known to occur elsewhere. It is named for its long fruit, which has a thickened body up to 1.5 centimeters long and a beak which can measure up to 7 centimeters long and is lined with comblike bristles.

Description

(Relating to subspecies pecten-veneris - the only subspecies occurring in the U.K.) Sparsely hairy annual. Stems to 50 cm, becoming hollow with age. Leaves bi- to tri-pinnate with lobes reaching around 10mm, narrow and entire to pinnatifid, petiole broadened at base and having scarious, usually ciliate margin. Umbels with 1-3 stout glabrous to sparsely hairy rays 0.5–4 cm in length; peduncle very short or absent; terminal umbel bearing hermaphrodite flowers and lateral umbels bearing variable proportions of male and hermaphrodite flowers. Bracts usually absent; bracteoles usually 5 in number, longer than pedicels, simple or irregularly (often deeply) divided. Flowers white; sepals small; outer petals not radiating; styles with enlarged base, forming stylopodium. Fruit 30-70mm, more or less cylindrical, slightly compressed laterally, with strongly dorsally flattened beak 3-4 times as long as and plainly distinct from seed-bearing portion, constricted at commissure; mericarps ribbed and scabrid with forward-pointing bristles on margins; carpophore present; vittae solitary and conspicuous; pedicels almost as thick as rays, glabrous at apex; styles 2-4 times as long as stylopodium, erect; stigma tapering. Cotyledons tapered gradually at base, without distinct petiole. Flowering time: May to June.[1]

Ploidy

Chromosome number of Scandix pecten-veneris and infraspecific taxa 2n = 16, 26.

Scientific name

Scandix is in origin a Latin word for chervil used by Pliny the Elder, who was also the first to record the descriptive name pecten Veneris signifying 'Venus's comb'.

English names

Scandix pecten-veneris has a wealth of evocative common names in English - most of them needle-related, in reference to the distinctive fruit, which, when mature, make it unlikely to be confused with any other native umbellifer. The English folk imagination has made of the plant the 'needle' of the following : Adam, the beggar, the clock, the crow, the Devil, the old wife/old woman/witch, Puck, the shepherd, and (more prosaically) the tailor. Of these, the tailor is (self-evidently) a user of needles in his work; Adam, the beggar, the crow and the shepherd convey rustic simplicity; the clock draws a parallel with clock hands and 'needles', and the Devil, the Witch and Puck play on the idea of the (malignly) supernatural and uncanny.

English 'comb' names for the plant are less plentiful, one, of the two recorded, invoking (once again) the shepherd and the other relating to the lady i.e. 'Our Lady' — one of the titles of the Virgin Mary. '(Our) Lady's Comb' is thus a Christianised form of 'Venus's Comb' (first recorded by Pliny in the Latin form pecten Veneris) with the name of the preeminent female figure of the newer religion replacing the name of the Roman goddess.

The connection between a harmless, edible plant growing in a cornfield and somewhat sinister supernatural entities (to say nothing of an ancient Roman goddess) is not immediately apparent to the modern mind, but may be explained by a study of ancient harvest customs. When growing corn waves in the wind, a shiver appears to run through it; and this was often described (by pre-industrial populations) as some imaginary creature running through the field. This supernatural 'creature' could be identified with the last sheaf cut at harvest time, as could certain female entities, preserving traces of half-remembered, pre-Christian goddesses. The association of grain with a goddess could be as old as the first attempts at sowing seed and collecting plants that were useful for food, and the grain field as a human-made environment in the British Isles and Ireland dates from the Neolithic period, with its attendant mythology (surviving only as iconography) colouring later Celtic myth.[3] In this context, the Old Wife/Old Woman/Witch names for Scandix pecten-veneris can be seen to refer to a harvest goddess of the kind still remembered in Celtic countries and present in English folk belief as part of a Celtic substrate pre-dating the Saxon invasions. The folkloric entity known as the 'Old Wife' can thus be understood in relation to the Welsh Gwrach, the Northern English and Lowland Scots Carlin and the Scottish Highland and Irish Cailleach. Puck and the Devil in names for the plant can likewise be understood as conceptions of the uncanny corn spirit whose passage is marked by the waving of the wheat in the wind, the Devil being a Christian interpretation of an earlier Puck figure.[4]

Distribution

Scandix pecten-veneris has a range extending from Western, Central and Southern Europe Eastwards to Western and Central Asia and is found also in the Maghreb. Within the U.K. the plant used to be widely distributed as a weed of arable land in the Southeast of England, being found as far west as Wiltshire, but became rather rare in its former haunts, a state of affairs attributed to stubble-burning and the use of modern herbicides[5] This gloomy tale of decline was, however, qualified in 1996 by wild food enthusiast Richard Mabey, who noted that, although the plant had suffered a dramatic decline in England, beginning in the 1950s, it began to recover with the banning of stubble-burning in the early 1990s. Furthermore — and contrary to earlier theories — the plant has proven to be resistant to modern herbicides after all and Mabey notes that the 'needles' of the plant are not readily separated from wheat by modern harvesting machinery — another factor contributing to its return to the English countryside.[6]

Habitat

Scandix pecten-veneris is a ruderal species, tending to favour dry, calcareous soils and often occurring in open meadows and woodland edges, this species does well in arable land and was formerly cultivated as a vegetable, as well as being gathered from the wild (see below).

As an edible plant

Scandix pecten-veneris has a long history of use in Europe, both as a leaf vegetable and as a salad vegetable. Some of the earliest references to its consumption are to be found in Ancient Greek texts satirising the tragedian Euripides (c.480-c.406 B.C.), of Salamis Island, which portray the playwright's mother, Cleito, as a humble greengrocer,[7] amongst whose wares was the vegetable scanthrix - the name of which found its way into Latin, in the modified form scandix, as a name for chervil (a related, edible umbellifer). The edible plant scanthrix is mentioned also by the Ancient Greek writers Opion, Theophrastus, and Erasistratus of Ceos, while the variant form of the name scanthrox is used by Pedanius Dioscorides for the same plant. Among Latin authors, Pliny the Elder lists scandix among the edible plants of Egypt. Much later, the Vicentine physician Onorio Belli (a.k.a. Honorius Bellus, 1550-1604) notes that, in his day, it was eaten on the island of Crete.[8]

References

  1. ^ Umbellifers of the British Isles Tutin T.G. BSBI Handbook No.2. Pub. Botanical Society of the British Isles,1980.
  2. ^ Grigson, Geoffrey, The Englishman's Flora, pub. Readers Union Phoenix House Ltd. London 1958.
  3. ^ The Language of the Goddess, Gimbutas, Marija, pub. Thames and Hudson 1989
  4. ^ Hilda Ellis Davidson. Roles of the Northern Goddess. Routledge, 1998. Chapter II (page 52): 'Mistress of the Grain'. See also p.155 re. Venus/Our Lady plant names.
  5. ^ Streeter, David The Wildflowers of the British Isles illustrated by Garrard, Ian, pub. Midsummer Books Ltd. 1983.
  6. ^ Richard Mabey. Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996.
  7. ^ Justina Gregory, 'Euripidean Tragedy', in A Companion to Greek Tragedy, Justina Gregory (ed.), Blackwell Publishing Ltd (2005), page 252
  8. ^ E.L. Sturtevant. Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants, pub. J.P. Lyon Company, Albany, 1919, for State of New York Dept of Agriculture. Reissued ed. U.P. Hedrick as Sturtevant's Edible Plants by Dover Publications, New York, 1972.

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Scandix pecten-veneris: Brief Summary

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Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd's-needle, Venus' comb, Stork's needle) is a species of edible plant belonging to the family Apiaceae. It is native to Eurasia, but is known to occur elsewhere. It is named for its long fruit, which has a thickened body up to 1.5 centimeters long and a beak which can measure up to 7 centimeters long and is lined with comblike bristles.

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