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Lesser Water Parsnip

Berula erecta

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Apiaceae (Carrot)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
120 centimetres tall
Fens, marshes, riverbanks, riversides, water, waterside, wetland.

White, 5 petals
Small white flowers in compound umbels on stalks opposite the leaves. Each umbel measures 3 to 6cm across. The flowers have 5 notched petals. Insect-pollinated.
Globular fruits, almost split into two. The seeds ripen from September to October.
A sprawling, hairless perennial with hollow stems. Similar to Fool's Watercress (Apium nodiflorum) but with more bluish-green leaves and longer leaflets that are more sharply toothed.
Other Names:
Cutleaf Waterparsnip, Narrow-leaved Water Parsnip, Upright Water Parsnip, Water Parsnip.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Berula erecta, also known as water parsnip or upright water parsnip, is a perennial herb in the family Apiaceae. It is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, but can also be found in other parts of the world. It typically grows in marshy or wet areas, such as along the edges of ponds, streams, and rivers. The plant has delicate, feathery leaves and small, white flowers that grow in clusters. The root of the plant is edible and has a similar taste and texture to a domestic parsnip. Berula erecta is not considered to be as toxic as other species of parsnip, but it is not as commonly consumed as other edible roots.


Berula erecta, commonly known as Lesser Water Parsnip, is a herbaceous perennial plant that belongs to the Apiaceae family. It is native to Europe and Asia, but can also be found in North America, where it is considered an introduced species. The plant grows in shallow water or damp soil, typically in marshes, ditches, and slow-moving streams.

The Lesser Water Parsnip has a hollow stem that can reach up to 1.2 meters in height, and the leaves are pinnate with serrated edges. The plant blooms from June to August, producing small white flowers arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters called umbels. The fruits are small, dry, and flattened, each containing two seeds.

The Lesser Water Parsnip has a long history of medicinal use. In traditional Chinese medicine, the root was used to treat coughs, asthma, and other respiratory disorders. The plant was also used in ancient Greece and Rome to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, rheumatism, and skin diseases.

Despite its medicinal benefits, the Lesser Water Parsnip is considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, including North America. It can form dense colonies that outcompete native plants and alter aquatic ecosystems. The plant is also toxic to livestock and can cause gastrointestinal distress if ingested.

Controlling the spread of Lesser Water Parsnip can be challenging, as it can spread through both seeds and vegetative reproduction. Some methods of control include physical removal, herbicide application, and preventing the plant from producing seeds.

The Lesser Water Parsnip plays an important ecological role in its native range, where it provides food and habitat for a variety of insects and birds. However, in areas where it has become invasive, it can displace native vegetation and alter aquatic ecosystems, leading to a decline in biodiversity.

In addition to its medicinal and ecological significance, the Lesser Water Parsnip also has cultural importance. In some cultures, the plant is considered a symbol of water, and its roots and leaves have been used in traditional ceremonies.

Despite its potential risks, the Lesser Water Parsnip can also have some positive benefits. For example, it has been used in phytoremediation, a process in which plants are used to remove pollutants from the environment. The plant has been found to be effective in removing heavy metals from contaminated water.

Overall, the Lesser Water Parsnip is a complex plant with both positive and negative attributes. While its medicinal properties and cultural significance are noteworthy, its invasive tendencies and potential toxicity should not be overlooked. It is important to take a balanced approach when considering the role of this plant in various contexts, and to work towards managing its spread in areas where it is considered invasive.

30 Facts About the Lesser Water Parsnip

Here are 30 facts about the Lesser Water Parsnip (Berula erecta):

  1. Lesser Water Parsnip, scientifically known as Berula erecta, is a species of flowering plant.

  2. It belongs to the Apiaceae family, which is commonly referred to as the parsley or carrot family.

  3. Lesser Water Parsnip is a wetland plant and is often found in or near water, such as streams, ponds, and wet meadows.

  4. The plant typically grows in Europe and Asia, especially in regions with temperate climates.

  5. Lesser Water Parsnip is a perennial plant, meaning it lives for more than two years.

  6. It can reach heights of up to one meter (around 3 feet).

  7. The leaves of Lesser Water Parsnip are compound and pinnate, with serrated edges.

  8. The plant produces small white flowers that are arranged in umbrella-like clusters called umbels.

  9. These flowers bloom during the summer months.

  10. Lesser Water Parsnip is an important food source for various aquatic insects and waterfowl.

  11. It provides shelter and breeding grounds for aquatic organisms due to its dense growth.

  12. The plant plays a role in stabilizing the banks of water bodies by reducing erosion.

  13. Lesser Water Parsnip is sometimes used in wetland restoration projects to enhance biodiversity.

  14. It is considered a good indicator species for assessing the health of wetland ecosystems.

  15. In some regions, Lesser Water Parsnip is considered an invasive species, as it can crowd out native plants.

  16. The plant has a taproot system that helps it anchor in waterlogged soils.

  17. Lesser Water Parsnip has a subtle, earthy fragrance.

  18. Historically, the plant was used for its medicinal properties, particularly as a diuretic and digestive aid.

  19. The root of Lesser Water Parsnip was sometimes used in traditional herbal medicine.

  20. The plant's common name, "Water Parsnip," reflects its habitat near water.

  21. It is a herbaceous plant, meaning it lacks woody tissue and remains soft and green throughout its life cycle.

  22. Lesser Water Parsnip can be mistaken for other plants in the Apiaceae family, so identification should be done carefully.

  23. In some areas, the plant is considered endangered due to habitat loss.

  24. It is known by various regional names, including "Cutleaf Water Parsnip" and "Shepherd's Needle."

  25. The stems of Lesser Water Parsnip are typically hollow and ribbed.

  26. The plant is primarily pollinated by insects, particularly bees and flies.

  27. Lesser Water Parsnip is not commonly cultivated for human consumption.

  28. It can grow in both standing and flowing water, adapting to different aquatic environments.

  29. The seeds of Lesser Water Parsnip are small and elliptical in shape.

  30. While it has ecological importance, Lesser Water Parsnip is relatively understudied compared to other wetland species.

Please note that while Lesser Water Parsnip has interesting ecological and botanical aspects, it is important to handle it with care, especially in areas where it may be considered invasive, and avoid consumption as it is not typically used for food.


Lesser Water Parsnip filmed at Sandscale Haws in Cumbria on the 8th July 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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