Sweet Cicely (Anise Root)

Photo of woolly sweet cicely flower clusters
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Scientific Name
Osmorhiza claytonii and O. longistylis
Apiaceae (carrots)

Missouri has two species of sweet cicely, which can be hard to tell apart. Both are perennial herbs with umbels of small white flowers, fernlike leaves, and sweetly aromatic, carrotlike roots. Flowers minute, white, massed on simple umbels. Blooms April–June. Leaves fernlike: twice ternately compound (in 3 sections, 2 lateral, 1 terminal, all 3 divided again into 3 sections), coarsely toothed, the lateral leaflets on a short stalk, the terminal on a longer one; aromatic. Root carrotlike, often aromatic with an anise or licorice scent.

Anise root (O. longistylis) is our most common sweet cicely. Its roots are strongly anise-scented, and the styles of the flowers are longer than the petals at flowering time. It is scattered to common nearly statewide.

Woolly sweet cicely (O. claytonii) apparently is far less common in our state. It usually smells much less strongly of anise, and although the stamens often protrude from the flowers, the styles are shorter than the petals. It is most commonly found north of the Missouri River.

Other Common Names
Clayton's Sweetroot
Woolly Sweet Cicely
Sweet Anise
Long-Styled Sweet Cicely

Height: to 3 feet.

Where To Find
image of Sweet Cicely Woolly Sweet Cicely Anise Root Sweet Anise distribution map

Statewide except Southeast Lowlands.

Occurs on rich wooded slopes, bottomland forests, banks of streams, and often in ravines.

Anise root has sometimes been used as a substitute for anise oil in cooking. This is done by extracting the oils from the roots or by grating the roots. Members of the celery family (such as this plant) tend to be rich in aromatic oils, and many species are very important in cooking.

Like other members of the celery or parsley family, some butterflies use this species as a food plant for their larvae. The flowers provide nectar to several more types of insects.

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Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!