Aniseroot is a native, erect, perennial plant, growing to 2+ feet high on occasionally branching stems that are mostly green, to reddish-green and either smooth, with some hair or covered with dense straight fine hairs.
Leaves are alternate, compound - 2 times pinnately divided. Each compound leaf is subdivided into 3 major stalked sections, the terminal section on the longest stalk, each section further subdivided. The margins have shallow clefts and crenations. The veins on the underside typically have whitish hair.
The inflorescence is a tall stem topped by a compound umbel, the umbel having around 3 or more, (typically 5) small umbels (umbellets). The umbellets will have 8 to 16 flowers each with several lance shaped green persistent hairy bracts at the base and usually the bracts will be at the base of the main umbel also.
Flowers: The white flowers themselves are small with 5 petals with notched tips. One or two of these petals will usually be longer than the others and the margins of the petals will have a slight fold. There are also 5 stamens with white filaments and white anthers that alternate with the petals and a white style with two spreading stigmas, the style as long or slightly longer than the petals. Anthers will turn darker after pollen maturity.
Seed: Flowers mature to a long and slender pod structure that splits into 2 seeds. It has slightly curved sides and is black at maturity.
Varieties: See notes at page bottom.
Habitat: Aniseroot has a rhizomatous root system and grows in moist woods and wood edges in light shade or dappled sunlight. Foliage of the Osmorhiza genus will produce a slight anise sent when crushed and the root has a strong anise scent.
Names: An older scientific name for Aniseroot is Myrrhis longistylis. The current genus name, Osmorhiza, is derived from two Greek words, osme, meaning 'fragrance' and rhiza meaning 'root'. Together referring to the scented root. The species name longistylis is from the Greek root longus, meaning 'long' and with stylis referring to the longer style of this plant. The author names for the plant classification are first, ‘Torr.’ which refers to John Torrey (1796-1873), American botanist, who, among many things, taught Asa Gray, contributed to the early parts of Flora of North America and who published the reports of plants collected by John C. Fremont’s 1842 and 1843-1844 Exploring Expeditions to the Rocky Mountains. His classification was revised by ‘DC’ who was Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841), Swiss botanist, who influenced Charles Darwin. He studied plants, began a systematic catalogue and has 2 genera named for him.
Comparison: A close relative is O. claytonii, Bland Sweet Cicely. Key differences are the umbellets of O. claytonii have only 4 to 7 flowers, the styles are shorter than the petals and the leaflets are more deeply cleft. [A technical article from Ohio State University on the differences between the two] Another plant with a name that can be confused with Aniseroot is Myrrhis odorata. This plant is in the same family and is variously called "Anise", "Smooth Cicely" and "Sweet Cicely". That plant is not native and has more carrot-like leaves and is planted as a garden ornamental.
Above: 1st photo - The compound umbel with each umbellet having 8 to 18 small flowers. 2nd photo - Each umbellet has a set of green, hairy, leafy bracts at its base.
Below: 1st photo - The compound leaf, 2 times pinnately divided, each compound leaflet stalked, the terminal compound leaflet on the longest stalk.
Above and Below: Each flower has 5 small petals, 5 stamens and 2 styles that are as long or slightly longer than the petals. All parts are white including the stamen filaments and anthers until the pollen is ripe, then the anthers turn brownish. Several of the petals can be larger than the others and petal edges are frequently folded.
Below : 1st photo - the compound umbel. Not the hairy leafy bracts at the base and then at the base of each umbellet. Note the hair on the lower part of the inflorescence stem, on the leaf stalks and veins. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: 1st photo - Seeds form on each umbellet as a long green two part pod, with short hairs. Note the persistence of the styles on the pod. 2nd photo - At maturity the pod splits into two black seeds.
Below: 1st photo - Aniseroot can have a reddish stem and the flower umbel is held above the leaves. 2nd & 3rd photos - The stem can be green to reddish-green, have dense fine hair or be without hair.
Notes: Eloise Butler first introduced Aniseroot to the Garden in 1911 when she brought in plants sourced from the Fort Snelling Area (Minneapolis). Aniseroot is found in North America from the Rocky Mountains eastward with the exception of LA, FL and the Canadian maritime provinces. In Minnesota it can be found in counties throughout the state with most exceptions being in the SW quadrant and a few scattered counties in north-central parts.
Varieties: Three varieties have been noted in references, but most authorities now consider them to be regional variations not in need of separate classification. Those varieties are var. imbarbata, var. villicaulis, and var. brachycoma. The differences seem to be the amount of hair on the stems. Minnesota authorities do not recognize the varieties.
There are 3 other members of the Osmorhiza genus recognized as native and present in Minnesota: O. berteroi, Chilean sweet cicely; O. claytonii, Bland sweet cicely; and O. depauperata, blunt-fruited sweet cicely. The first is endangered, the second is common, and the last is of special concern.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"