Earlier (https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/cow-parsnip-and-giant-hogweed) I posted about two superficially similar PEI plants that people were confusing with each other: the native and common Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum) and the invasive and uncommon Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). There’s another invasive member of this group that’s very abundant in eastern PEI, flowering now, and being confused with these species. Let’s look at Woodland Angelica (Angelica sylvestris, Photo 1).
All these plants are in the Carrot Family (Apiaceae), a group whose members can be some of the most challenging for identifiers. You often need to look closely at various parts of these plants to confirm ID, and this is not a Family I would trust with any plant apps. That said, the differences among Cow Parsnip, Giant Hogweed, and Woodland Angelica are distinctive (although the differences between Woodland Angelica and our two native Angelicas are less so).
The easiest way to distinguish Woodland Angelica from either Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed is the leaves (Photo 2). Woodland Angelica leaves are divided into leaflets that are themselves divided into leaflets (they will be twice- or thrice-divided); Cow Parsnip (and Giant Hogweed) leaves are divided only once. I’ve circled an example of a Cow Parsnip leaf and part of a Woodland Angelica leaf on Photo 2 to help you see the difference.
Up close, Woodland Angelica flowers are also quite different from Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed. While the latter two species tend to be rather flat-topped, Angelica flowers look like clusters of fuzzy balls (Photo 3).
Like many other members of the Carrot Family, Woodland Angelica produces natural chemicals called ‘furanocoumarins’. If you get these chemicals on your skin and then that skin gets exposed to sunlight, the result can be serious and long-lasting burns. The good news is these chemicals are in the sap, not on the surface of the plant. Unless you have an allergy, it is perfectly safe to touch these plant (though I wouldn’t put the sap of any member of the Carrot Family on my skin).
Our two native Angelicas are not all that common on PEI. Seaside Angelica (Angelica lucida) is found only in coastal areas. Purple-stemmed Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) is more likely to be found in natural habitats than is the non-native Woodland Angelica, but that’s not a definitive identifier. To make matters even more confusing, Woodland Angelica often has a purple stem and Purple-stemmed Angelica can be found in woodlands! If you have an Angelica on your property and are considering getting rid of it, it’s worthwhile to consult an expert to ensure you’re dealing with the invasive rather than native species.
Not every large member of the Carrot Family is cause for concern, and they are all interesting parts of PEI untamed!