Bland Sweet Cicely is a native, erect, perennial plant, growing 1 to 3 feet high on stems the may branch from the base, are mostly green and covered with dense straight fine hairs. The stem bases are swollen and typically reddish.
Leaves are alternate, compound - 2 times pinnately divided. Each compound leaf subdivided into 3 major stalked sections, the terminal section on the longest stalk, each section further subdivided. The leaflets are ovate to oval in shape, the margins have shallow clefts and crenations. The leaf surfaces are hairy and especially the underside veins have long whitish hair. Upper leaves will be smaller with much shorter stalks.
The inflorescence is a tall stem topped by a compound umbel, the umbel having around 3 to 6 small umbels (umbellets). The umbellets will have 4 to 7 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 stigma with two spreading styles which are shorter than the petals. Anthers will turn darker after pollen maturity. The elongated calyx tube is green and very hairy. Only the flower stalk itself is without much hair.
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.
Habitat: Bland Sweet Cicely has a thickened fibrous root system extending from a caudex. It grows in moist woods and wood edges in light shade or dappled sunlight. Foliage of some members of the Osmorhiza genus will produce an anise sent when crushed and the root has a strong anise scent. That scent is subdued or absent in Bland Sweet Cicely. Seeds that fall from the plant at maturity have a quick germination rate, those that overwinter then need at least 3 months of cold stratification.
Names: The 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, claytonii, is an honorary for John Clayton, the early Virginia botanist and plant collector (1686-1773). Clayton sent many specimens and descriptions to Europe where his descriptions were included in the productions of others without his consent or acknowledgment. The author names for the plant classification are: ‘Michx.’ refers to Andre Michaux (1746-1802), French botanist who made many exploring expeditions in the U.S. collecting and cataloging many species. His notes were later used by his son, Francois, who with Thomas Nuttall published the multi-volume North American Sylva. Michaux's work was updated by ‘C.B. Clark’ refers to Charles Baron Clarke (1832-1906), British botanist, President of the Linnean Society and fellow of the Royal Society. His last years were at Kew Gardens. Before the update by Clarke O. claytonii was classified at Myrrhis claytonii Michx.
Comparisons: A close relative is O. longistylis, Aniseroot. Key differences are the umbellets of O. longistylis have 8 to 16 flowers, the styles are longer than the petals and the leaflets are less deeply cleft. Aniseroot has a distinct Anise scent in the root. [A technical article from Ohio State University on the differences between the two]. Another plant with a name that can be confused with Bland Sweet Cicely 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 used as a garden ornamental.
Above: Plants typically branch at the base and produce compound umbels at the top of the hairy stems
Below: Each umbellet has 4 to 7 flowers with five petals with one or two petals longer than the others. The two spreading styles are shorter than the petals.
Below: The long calyx is very hairy, maturing into a black pod that splits into two long seed. Note the green bracts at the base of the umbellet.
Above: Stems and leaf stalks have dense long white hair. The leaf photo shows a young leaf, not fully extended but the major sections are visible.
Below: The veins on the leaf underside have long hair. The stem base is swollen and reddish at ground level where it branches.
Bland Sweet Cicely in indigenous to the Wildflower Garden. Eloise Butler first noted it in her log on May 25, 1907. It was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 census but then disappeared sometime later. Curator Susan Wilkins re-planted it in 2009. It is found in North America in the eastern half of the continent except for the Gulf Coast states. It is found in most counties of Minnesota.
There are 3 other members of the Osmorhiza genus recognized as native and present in Minnesota: O. berteroi, Chilean sweet cicely; O. longistylis, Aniseroot; and O. depauperata, blunt-fruited sweet cicely. The first is endangered, the second is fairly 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"