• Bishop's Flower: Doin' It's Own Darn Thang

August 16, 2018

Isn't Queen Anne's lace just Bishop's flower in drag? Nope. The two are completely different species within the same family.

Bishop's flower (Ammi majus) is often confused with Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), both in the garden and in popular garden publications. We'll let it slide; it's easy to do. Both plants look very much alike and perform under similar conditions. They're both beloved by florists and guys who know they shouldn't show up at a lady's door without fresh flowers...and since one or the other is found most anywhere in late summer, both species have bailed out more than a few men who were too cheap to stop at a flower stand.

While it's a no-no to call Bishop's flower Queen Anne's lace, "false Queen Anne's lace" will make you look like a smartypants. Same as if you were to call it Bishop's weed, white dill, large bullwort, or just plain "ammi."

The biennial Queen Anne's lace is listed as an invasive noxious weed in several states, while the United States Department of Agriculture doesn't have a bad word to say about Ammi majus; the latter doesn't have the same invasive qualities as Queen Anne's lace. One has naturalized throughout North America, while the star of this article has been slow to bolt, so to speak. Bishop's flower is pure white, lacking Queen Anne's lace's dark center flower.

Tracing Bishop's Flower To Its Roots

Ammi majus is a member of the carrot family, which goes by either Apiaceae or Umbelliferae. (For the purpose of this article, and for everyone's sanity, we'll use the latter.) There's a lot of debate over its origins; if you put a contemporary botanist in a pub, blindfold her, give her a dart and stick her in front of a map of Europe, western Asia, and North Africa, you'll get just as accurate a result as you would looking up the answer in any of several natural history guides.

We like the opinion that Ammi majus first sprang up in Egypt's lower Nile Valley because that's kinda sexy...and we think Ammi majus and papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) would make an incredible floral design mashup.

Bishop's Flower in Herbalism

Speaking of sex, seeds harvested from Ammi majus once played a role as a contraceptive, used in the same manner as the "morning after pill." Most remedies made from this plant drew upon decoctions made from Bishop's flower seeds, as opposed to the foliage and flowers, and in addition to curtailing reproduction were used to treat asthma, angina, and toothache.

According to Plants for a Future (PFAF), Bishop's flower seeds contain furanocoumarins, known to cause photosensitivity. It seems contradictory that its roots—which contain 8-methoxypsoralen—were also thought to prevent sun damage by creating skin pigment more able to withstand ultraviolet light.

Do you remember when Michael Jackson disclosed that he had vitiligo? This skin disorder, which causes patchy pigmentation, was once remedied with Ammi majus seeds and/or roots. PFAF says that Bishop's flower is "widely cultivated in India for these furanocoumarins for the treatment of vitiligo (piebald skin) and psoriasis...caution is advised, however, since it can cause side-effects."

This is where we say, "call your doctor first." While some of the natural chemicals in Bishop's flower are components used in pharmaceutical treatments, you'll likely have the best—and safest—outcomes through the use of prescription medications. Use gloves when you handle Bishop's flower; the plant's oils can irritate your skin.

Bishop's Flower in the Garden

Bishop's flower is coveted for its flat or slightly domed frothy, creamy-white flowers perched on long, delicate stems. Look closer, and you'll see groupings of about a dozen tiny blossoms on each umbrel (think "mini umbrella"), and all these umbrels uniting to create the umbrella shape the plant's family is named for.

The clusters are compact as they develop but can spread out to as much as six inches across. The younger flowers transition from pale lime to white as they mature.

Bishop flower's long, delicate, fern-like leaves are enough to hold a gardener's attention on their own, and their medium to dark green hues provide a fantastic, dense backdrop to the multiple layers and stages of growing flower heads. Plant them along walls or fence lines, or anywhere you want to soften up your landscape. Bishop's flowers’ tall stems are surprisingly sturdy for their small diameter.

Do you want to attract butterflies, bees, and beneficial wasps? Bishop's flower draws them in. Nature photographers love how the flower's flat plane, white backdrop, and "blur-able" foliage don't distract from their insect subjects.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

Height: 24" to 36" tall

Width: 18" to 24" wide

Bloom Time: May through September, sometimes into October. (That's a really, really long time.)

Fragrance: Your nose will be too busy climbing into your eyeballs to enjoy this plant to notice that there aren't any olfactory fireworks going on.

Sunlight Requirements: Full sun, partial afternoon shade.

Moisture Requirements: Bishop's flower plants are drought tolerant once they're established, but they prefer consistently moist soil. Be sure to keep them irrigated during the growth period, or if you plan to harvest them for cut flowers. Just don't overwater them, or they'll develop crown rot.

Soil Preferences:  Bishop's flower isn't particularly finicky about soil, as long as it's well-draining. Its ideal pH range is between 6.5 and 7.0. For the best flowers and foliage, spoil your plants with rich, compost-amended soil.

Pests & Diseases: Ammi majus is, for the most part, pest- and disease-resistant. Thrips and crown rot can be an issue.

Maintenance: Deadhead spent flowers to prevent seed drop, and remove spring-started plants at the end of summer to tidy up your yard. Be sure to remove the plant's taproot.

Harvesting: After plucking entire stems and flowers, remove any leaves in the lower third of the plant (avoid submerging the leaves in water) and place the stems in lukewarm water to encourage uptake. To prolong the life and vigor of the blooms, change out the water every other day, also trimming about a half-inch from the bottom of the stems. With a little care, your Bishop's flowers will remain fresh-looking for about a week. As with most cut flowers, it's best to use a sharp knife and cut the stems under running water.

For dried flowers, hang the entire stems upside-down in a ventilated area.

Growing Bishop's Flower from Seed

Direct-sow Ammi majus outdoors (as an annual) after the last hard frost, or prior to the first frosts of fall. Bishop's flower seeds actually prefer temperatures on the cool side to get them going. We recommend fall-sowing (treating it as a biennial) in August to get the best flowers the following season.

Want an early start? Mark a date about 8 weeks before your last frost; Bishop's flower seeds require 10 to 14 days of cold stratification before planting in seedling pots or trays. Either follow the methods on our guide, "The Dirt on Successful Germination," or wrap your trays in plastic and stick 'em in the fridge for 7 to 14 days before setting them under lights, or in a sunny room.

  • Seed Depth: 1/16"
  • Spacing: Plant or thin 12" apart
  • Days to Germination: 7 to 21 days at 55°F to 65°F

You'll want to keep your growing area and emerging seedlings moist until they're established. Transplant your starts 2 to 4 weeks after your last hard frost. Seeds need cold to germinate, but young plants are frost-tender, especially due to transplanting stress.

Having said all that, it's best to direct-sow your Bishop's flower seeds.

Floral Design

Bishop's flower can stand in for any arrangement calling for Queen Anne's lace. We love bouquets made from light green young flowers massed with white mature blooms, with the feathery leaf stems bundled in for a soft, delicate effect; these arrangements mimic the plants' appearance in the garden.

  • Throw in some baby's breath (pink or white) for an overdose of dainty.
  • Go for a casual look by combining Bishop's flower with any of your favorite wildflower mixes.
  • Love-in-a-Mist has feathery foliage and unusual blue blooms; together, these two cut flowers make a charming pair.
  • Intersperse them with bracken fern fronds, fiddleheads, and conifer twigs for a bouquet that evokes a cool, deep-forest atmosphere.
  • Trim the "umbrellas" into smaller sizes as needed to maintain a sense of scale when using Bishop's flower as a filler
  • Use the foliage to soften rose arrangements, with or without Ammi majus flowers.

Florists adore Bishop's flower for good reason; it holds up well, makes a great accent or filler, and it's versatile. Its long bloom period means it's always around in the growing season. Don't be afraid to use sprigs of unopened buds, either!

Seed Needs: Your Source for Bishop's Flower

We're proud to offer this charming alternative to Queen Anne's lace, and we think you'll love having it in your garden. If you're growing Ammi majus for the floral design market, you'll keep your customers happy with a fresh, continuous supply and as your supplier for high-quality seeds from reliable stock, we want to make you happy.

Whether you're a production grower or a backyard gardener, we can customize your order by volume or packaging, and we're here for you if you have any questions!


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