A large family that includes quite a number of differing types of plants, the umbels are all characterized by their bloom shapes, which resemble small umbrellas — hence their family name. Included are a number of favorite herbs — curled and Italian parsley, cilantro, dills, chervil, cumin, the three fennels, and of course carrots, Queen Anne’s Lace, and even parsnips.
Members of this large group also share a large and long tap root (consider the carrot!).
Generally all members of this family are best cultivated in the cooler season garden; indeed they may not grow at all if the soils are too warm. Herein lies the problem for Texas gardeners who wait until spring to plant parsley, cilantro, dill, the fennels, and chervil.
Almost every widely cultivated plant of this group is considered useful as a companion plant. One reason is that the tiny flowers clustered into umbels are well suited for ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and predatory flies, which actually drink nectar when not reproducing. They then will prey upon insect pests on nearby plants. Another benefit is that some of the herb members of this family produce scents that are believed to mask the odors of nearby plants, thus making them harder for insect pests to find.
The black swallowtail butterfly utilizes the umbel family for food and host plants during the egg-laying and caterpillar-producing period. Inexperienced gardeners sometimes blame pests for the disappearance of foliage from their fennels and dill and seek a chemical remedy — the result is a loss of black swallowtails! (Left alone, or lightly fertilized with Arbor Gate Blend, the foliage will re-grow!)