About Australian Parsnip
Australian parsnip (Tracymene incisa) is more commonly known as wild parsnip to Australians, but that name gets confusing quickly on other continents. The form of the plant will be familiar to most, as it is the most common design in the family Apiaceae, with a long, thin taproot and a low growing bunch of frilly foliage. It is a true perennial, flowering in its second and later years. This is the only Australian native root crop that I have had any success growing, but it is worth the failures that preceded it. The roots are small, rarely reaching the size of your little finger, but they are quite tasty – somewhere between carrot and parsnip. They tend to get woody as the plants get older. It performs surprisingly well in the Pacific Northwest, where it grows best in full sun with regular water. I recommend growing it on drip, because it will go dormant in drought and that is the end of growth for the year. The foliage is frost tender, but the roots survive freezes down to at least 25F. Too early to be sure, but I’d say this plant is hardy to USDA zone 9a, possibly even 8b. This is still a wild plant and needs work. You shouldn’t expect much of a harvest, but if we start selecting for larger roots that stay tender after the seedling year, this could turn into a valuable crop in time.
Australian Parsnip is primarily along the east coast of Australia, with the greatest density in New South Wales and Queensland. It’s native environment is dry most of the year with poor soil.
Because Australian parsnip grows in an environment that frequently experiences brush fires, it has been suggested that fire may be an important factor in germination. One study, however, found no significant different in germination tested in burned and unburned plots (Wardle 2003).
As with many apiaceae, the flowers of Australian parsnip are protandrous; they undergo male and female phases. They first mature anthers, followed by a quiescent phase before the stigmae become receptive. Individual umbels never have flowers in the male and female phase at the same time, although there are often different umbels on the same plant that have flowers in different phases (Davila 2002). This mechanism encourages cross pollination. Seed set is significantly better with cross pollination than self pollination. The flowering period of Australian parsnip can be as long as six months.