Torilis arvensis, hedge parsley, can be found in much of the U.S. It is common in Texas, often mixed in with grasses along a roadside or on the edge of a field. The plant can get up to 3 feet tall on a stem with fine white hairs. The feathery leaves are alternate and pinnately compound with toothed leaflets.
You’ll see its white flowers in spring and summer. They grow on umbels, short stalks that spread from a common point, like an umbrella. The umbels may be compound, umbellets, meaning they have branching umbels of their own. Flowers have five petals that are not the same size. Each flower produces two oval burs, fruits, each with one seed.
The greenish or pinkish fruits, less than ⅓ inch, have hooked prickles that easily attach to clothing and animals. They are indehiscent. This means they don’t open for seed dispersal but rely on decomposition or an animal eating the fruit to release the seeds. This allows time for the seeds to be carried away from the parent plant and established in a new area. Some U.S. agencies use the
Some U.S. agencies use the common name tall sock-destroyer or just sock destroyer for T. arvensis. This includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fws.gov, Forest Service, fs.usda.gov and the National Park Service, NPS, nps.gov. In some of their park literature NPS has a picture of the burs clinging to a visitor. It warns against unintentionally bringing the plants in on socks, shoelaces, tires, backpacks, pet fur, etc. Seeds are also spread by water and as a contaminant in hay, crop seed and bedding material. The fact that T. arvensis
The fact that T. arvensis fruits stick to clothing helped Fort Worth police in 1995. They successfully prosecuted the suspect in the kidnapping and assault case of a 2-yearold girl. She was pulled from the window of her apartment, assaulted and left in a weedy area about 100 yards from her home. Police worked with botanists at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, brit. org, who matched T. arvensis and other plant material found at the crime scene with material found on the suspect’s shoes. This and other evidence lead to a conviction and a 99-year jail sentence. (Lipscomb & Diggs 1998). The use of plant material in criminal investigations is called forensic botany.
Hedge parsley is in the Food and Drug Administration Poisonous Plant Database at fda.gov although some have used its roots and leaves in the same way as some other members of its family, Apiaceae. Family members include carrots, celery, cumin, regular parsley and other common vegetables, herbs and spices. But the family also has members that are poisonous. Deadly poisonous. Some deadly poisonous relatives resemble hedge parsley. So, if you’re not positive of its identity, just admire the beauty of the pretty white flowers and delicate leaves. Leave the plant to the bees, flies, caterpillars and beetles that are attracted to it.
Deborah Richardson is a freelance reporter for The Examiner with a fondness for flora in its natural setting