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Wild Chervil Flowering

6-5-17 wild chervil and Bibionidae fly 064

You can’t drive very far right now without seeing a sea of tiny, white flowers belonging to an invasive plant, Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris), crowding the shoulders of the road. A member of the carrot family, Wild Chervil leafs out early in the spring before most native plants and consequently shades them out and displaces them. It spreads aggressively and produces many seeds that are dispersed by birds, water and mowing (after the seeds have set).

Native to Europe, Wild Chervil was introduced in the early 1900’s to North America in wildflower seed mixes intended to reproduce the European countryside in gardens. Little did gardeners know that among these seeds was a plant that would outcompete native plant species and drastically reduce wildlife habitat. In addition to choking out native plants, Wild Chervil also is the host for a virus that infects carrots, parsnips, and celery.

Because it is a prolific seed-producer Wild Chervil can be challenging to eradicate. The best way to control it is to stop it from flowering and setting seed, but unless you mow early, every year, before its flower buds open, this isn’t a very effective method. Its up to six-foot-long taproot makes removing it by hand extremely difficult, but possible; however, this method also runs the risk of breaking off lateral buds at the top of its roots that can grow into new plants. Beware — Wild Chervil looks a lot like Poisonous Hemlock (Conium maculatum).

One of the few positive things to be said about Wild Chervil is that its flowers are a source of nectar for small bees, parasitic wasps, flies and beetles. Black Swallowtail larvae feed on the foliage.   Many of these flowers are being visited now by thousands of flies in the Bibionidae family. Pull over the next time you see clouds of white smothering the edge of a road and look for these tiny, black flies. The males are the ones with the big eyes (pictured).

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8 responses

  1. Ugh. So unfortunate that these rather pretty blossoms and leaves are so problematical!
    I have tried to pick all the flowers as soon as they appear, when I’m taking walks. I’m figuring this will at least keep them from going to seed and spreading that way. But will this actually get rid of the plants that are already there? Thanks! – Dell

    June 5, 2017 at 9:08 am

    • Wild chervil is a biennial, so I think (?) if you were to cut every flower off every plant for two consecutive years, you might have rid yourself of it!

      June 5, 2017 at 10:19 am

      • Sara Hand

        Wild chervil is not a strict biennial but monocarpic meaning that it flowers once then dies. The problem is that each root is capable of producing many offsets, lateral buds that do not die when the main root dies. New seedlings can take several years to reach blooming size.

        The best way I have found to control or remove this plant is to dig it up being careful to get all the buds. The roots tend to be less than one foot deep but you do not need to get all of the root just the very top where the leaves join and the root and all the offsets, think carrot not dandilion.

        I live in central Vermont and have been dealing with chervil for 19 years removing it from my 3.5 acre property and have for the most part succded. I have found if I remove all the blooming plants and as many of the smaller non blooming plants that I find the it does not spread but it can take up to five years to completely remove a large patch.

        I hope this information helps to understand this plant.


        June 5, 2017 at 4:36 pm

      • Thank you so much, Sara!

        June 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

  2. Thank you, Is garden Chervil also invasive? Is it the same plant?

    June 5, 2017 at 9:15 am

    • I don’t believe so. Wild chervil is a totally different species from cultivated species, not an escaped version of it!

      June 5, 2017 at 10:02 am

      • Thank you. I later saw a reference to cow parsnip. I know what that is, and it isn’t the chervil I grow in my herb garden. Scary moment!

        June 5, 2017 at 5:05 pm

  3. Peggy Timmerman

    Thank you for educating folks about invasive species! I am battling them constantly on our property in Wisconsin. The road mowing crews are completely ignorant and contribute greatly to their spread along the roads, which then facilitates their spread into agricultural fields and natural areas. Most people have no idea how much they threaten the biodiversity of our native ecosystems–since plants are the bottom rung of the food “pyramid”, and most of our insects are not adapted to utilize species they did not evolve with, thus affecting all the birds and other critters that eat insects, and so on up the chain.

    June 5, 2017 at 4:14 pm

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