Spotlight on an Invader: Woodland Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

Spotlight on an Invader: Woodland Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

If you spend any time in Southeastern PEI during the summer you are likely very familiar with woodland angelica (Angelica sylvestris). This robust plant grows in large swathes, entirely filling ditches along Route 4 from High Bank to Murray River.

Woodland angelica has been used for centuries for culinary and medicinal purposes. Its leaves, stems and roots are edible. Leaves can be harvested and eaten fresh or cooked. They apparently make a flavourful addition to salads. Stems can be harvested in June/early July and candied for a delicious treat. The root can be dried and made into a “medicinal” tea, said to treat disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, nervous system, and also against fever, infections, and flu. The plant can also be used to make yellow dyes.

Native to Europe (including Britain) and Western Asia, it can now be found in all Maritime Provinces, Quebec and Ontario. It will grow in full shade or full sunlight and prefers moist soils (i.e. ditches, shores, wet meadows, etc.), but can tolerate drought conditions.

Woodland angelica is a beautiful plant. It can grow to be 2 metres tall. Its stem is bamboo-like with few branches and purple joints. A characteristic “sheath” is common where branches connect to the stem. Woodland angelica’s leaves are large and pinnately compound (made up of many leaflets). The leaflets are ovate with toothed edges and are sometimes lobed, although the terminal leaflet is usually unlobed.

Woodland angelica produces flowers July to September. They are white to lilac-tinged and grow on an umbrella-shaped flowering head at the top of a flowering stalk. Flowers are very fragrant and attractive to many insects, including bees. Woodland angelica is biennial, so only second year plants will flower and form seed. Plants self-seed quite easily, so physically removing first-year plants and removing flowering heads from second-year plants before they go to seed can be an effective management strategy.

Caution should be taken when handling woodland angelica, because it contains a toxin that can cause irritation when it contacts skin and is exposed to sunlight. It is recommended to wear gloves and wait for a cloudy day if you plan to work with woodland angelica.

PEI is home to two native angelica species as well – great angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) and seaside angelica (Angelica lucida). The three can be difficult to distinguish between, however our native angelica species are much more uncommon that the invasive variety. Therefore, if you see a large population of angelica along a roadside, or in some other highly disturbed habitat, chances are high that it is indeed the invasive woodland angelica (Angelica sylvestris).

If you happen to see woodland angelica in your travels, please report your sighting to the PEIISC via our website. We know woodland angelica is present in Southeastern PEI, but would like to know more about its distribution on our Island.

If identifying and reporting invasive species is something that interests you, consider joining our invasive species Spotter’s Network!

– Julie-Lynn Zahavich, PEIISC Spotter’s Network Coordinator