Wild Carrot Galaxies

White spirals: that was the cover-painting theme for my Astronomical Calendar one year (1994). On the front was a hurricane called Hyacinth, its violent spiral spanning several hundred miles; inside was the Whirlpool Galaxy, otherwise known as Messier 51, forty thousand light-years wide; and on the back was the plant called Queen Anne’s Lace, painted at true scale, I think, its flowering head six inches wide.

I remembered about this because I’ve found five other drawings I must have made of that plant in South Carolina.


(Something has changed about this blogging software. The pictures don’t open when I click on them. Try right-clicking and “View image” and click again to enlarge.)





I don’t at the moment know where the originals are of the large hurricane and Queen Anne’s Lace pictures that were on the covers.

The botanical name for the plant is Daucus carota; it’s known as Queen Anne’s Lace in America; in Britain, from which it was brought, it is just wild carrot. Our ordinary carrot is a domesticated form of it, still regarded as in the same species. I didn’t know, till I looked it up just now, that it has other folk-names, bird’s nest, bishop’s lace, but a reader, Linda Lamb, wrote to me that when she was growing up in east Tennessee “we called it chigger weed because we thought we got chigger bites from association with it.”

These three natural structures on vastly different scales consist of clumpy white matter arranged irregularly outward along spiral arms (all of the Archimedean type, I think, in other words, the arms stay roughly the same distance apart), but to see a relation between them is mere fancy: they have different causes – density waves around the galaxy, convection in Earth’s atmosphere, plants’ branching apparently governed by Fibonacci numbers. But the analogy is made exquisite by a detail. At the center of the galaxy – of every large galaxy, we now think – is a black hole. At the center of the hurricane is the cloud-free “eye” around which the clouds roar. And at the center of the umbel or flowering head of Queen Anne’s Lace, with its fifty or so umbellets each consisting of maybe fifty tiny white five-petalled florets (the true flowers), there is almost always a single floret that instead of being white like all the others is of a red-purple so dark as to seem at first glance black.

It’s a drop of the blood of Queen Anne (whichever Queen Anne it was). Her needle pricked her while she was weaving lace.

And the lace: is it the tri-divided flower, or the tri-divided leaves?


One thought on “Wild Carrot Galaxies”

  1. I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while (many summers). Not particularly because of the individual flowers, but small groups of them, with their random axial orientation, remind me of the similar look of groups of galaxies.

    Any thoughts that we have in common elevates my self esteem, as rare as this is; thanks for sharing.

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