Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
No real beauty, stemless cymopterus is an early spring flower restricted to the central and northern Great Plains and mountain grasslands, at elevations up to 7,500 ft.
An entire stemless cymopterus plant may be less than two inches tall. Plants are easily overlooked because of their short stature and sordid whitish-purple flowers. Grayish feathery leaves resembling those of the carrot overtop the flowering heads, which are less than a half inch wide. Each head is comprised of 5-20 minute flowers on a tiny stalk or pedicel; these in turn are attached to another stalk which arises from a greatly thickened taproot. In fruit, the flower heads swell to many times their original size as large winged seeds like those of garden dill develop.
It is easiest to find this plant on hilltops in heavily or moderately grazed prairie. Stemless cymopterus is never abundant enough to be classed as an important forage plant, but both the roots and leaves have a pleasant taste, and were used by native Americans for foods and flavorings.
This plant is a member of the large and economically important parsley family (Apiaceae). Apium is the ancient Greek name for celery. The family includes edible plants as carrot and parsnip, but also poisonous species such as the deadly water hemlock. The generic name was derived from the Greek cyma "a wave," and pteron "a wing," in reference to the undulating edges of the papery wings on the seeds. The specific epithet acaulis means "stemless" in botanical Latin. Stemless cymopterus was first described for science by Frederick Pursh, who used a specimen collected along the Missouri River by John Bradbury in 1811.