The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Bland Sweet Cicely (Sweet Cicely, Clayton's Sweet-root, Hairy Sweet Cicely)


Scientific Name
Osmorhiza claytonii (Michx.) C.B.Clarke


Plant Family
Carrot (Apiaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer Flowering



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 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 two spreading white 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 - thus the name. 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 of most species of this genus. The species name, claytonii, was an honorary named for the English born Virginia botanist John Clayton, (1694-1773) who lived in Williamsburg. Clayton sent plants to Europe, particularly to England and to Dutch naturalist Johann Friedrich Gronovius. Carl Linnaeus, working with Gronovius, published his first book Syetema Naturae, and included these plants in the book. Clayton then sent to Gronovius his catalog of Virginia plants, Gronovius proposed to Linnaeus to arrange it and publish it. This became Flora Virginica,1739-43, the first book on new world material using the Linnaean system of classification. Unfortunately, he did not tell Clayton and did not have his permission.

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. Two important works of his are the Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique septentrionale (1801 - Oaks of North America), and the Flora Boreali-Americana (2 vols., 1803) published posthumously, in which appeared this plant classified as Myrrhis claytonii. His son Francois, traveled with him and the father’s notes were later used for the 3-volume North American Sylva. Michaux's work was updated to the new name by ‘C.B. Clark’ which 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.

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.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

full plant Inflorescence

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.

flowers flower closeup

Below: The long calyx is very hairy, maturing into a black pod that splits into two long seeds. Note the green bracts at the base of the umbellet.

flower calyx seeds

Below: 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.

Stem hair leaf

Below: The veins on the leaf underside have long hair. The stem base is swollen and reddish at ground level where it branches.

leaf underside stem base


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 and site links

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.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.