Native Parsnip (Part 10)

Trachymene incisa [plant cropped & sml].jpg

Native parsnip. © JPM, 2022.

An under-utilised native tuber, this Aussie parsnip can be hard to find but once discovered you can be sure there are hundreds more nearby!


Closely related to carrot, parsley and European parsnip, this native Australian perennial tuber has been assigned the botanical genus Trachymene (T.). Although Tim Low lists only one edible species (T. incisa), there are many prominent edible native parsnips widely distributed across the continent which featured prominently in the diet of many native tribes. Such species include the eastern, mountainous T. incisa, already mentioned; T. glaucifolia of the arid interior; T. ochracea of arid south-western Queensland; the purple-tubered T. cyanopetala of the west Australian wheat belt region; and T. pilosa, a dwarf variety which is common in the wheat belt regions of western and southern Australia. I have no doubt that lorekeepers across the country still retain many traditional names and uses for this once popular tuber.

Habitat and Range

Native parsnip can generally be found in sheltered woodland and heath country on the eastern coast of Australia, mostly in New South Wales, but range from Cape York in Queensland to Ulla Dulla near the NSW/Victorian border region, as well as inland along the Great Dividing Range, especially the New England region. Other species may be found in the arid regions, as well as western and southern Australia. They prefers well draining, sandy but moist underbrush. Arid species can simply be growing in the middle of the desert, but usually in the shelter of rock formations or escarpments. Look for it amidst granite or basalt rock outcroppings, or sandstone escarpments and cliffs, as well as under or beside fallen logs, and amidst alpine heath and woodland. Native parsnips are often patchily distributed and can be difficult to find, especially in woodland, but where they occur they usually grow in large, localised quantities. Due to the fact they are perennials, unharvested or young plants will remain for years to come. It is worth recording locations where they are found for future use.

Figure 1. Distribution of Trachymene (all species) across the continent. Atlas of Living Australia.
Trachymene distribution.png


Key Identifying Features
  • Parsley-like leaves, emerging from a central taproot
  • Flowers in spring through summer (September-January)
  • Flowers emerge on long stalks, 40-80cm long
  • Flowers are tiny clusters of five-petaled, five-anthered white or pinkish white
  • Taproot is a long, sometimes tough but edible tuber.
  • Taproot and crushed leaves should smell faintly like carrot or parsley
In many respects, foliage of native parsnips most resemble a thicker version of carrot or perhaps a thinner version of Italian parsley, although these can vary according to the local species. Foliage is typically green, sometimes with a red or purple tinge when leaves are young.

Figure 2. Native parsnip, T. incisa, foliage on a granite outcrop. The leaves are a bit thicker than carrot, but thinner than Italian parsley. New England National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
Trachymene incisa [foliage].jpg

Figure 3. T. incisa foliage growing on a granite outcrop. This one had a reddish tinge, indicating a young specimen. New England National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
Trachymene incisa [plant & rock cropped sml].jpg

Their tiny flower heads appear in the spring through summer. Being only 1-2 cm across, if growing singly in an area they can be easily missed. But since they often occur on long stems of 50-150 cm tall and grow in clumps together, a collection of flower heads together is a sign of a robust colony of parsnips.

Figure 4. Native parsnip, T. incisa, flowers. Note the tall, branching flower stem. Old flower stems draping across the ground (white dried stems, see figure 3. above as well) can be used to identify plants which are no longer in flower. New England National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
Trachymene incisa [plant & flower sml].jpg

Figure 5. Closeup of a native parsnip flower, T. incisa. This flower head was tiny, about the size of your thumbnail. New England National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
Trachymene incisa [flower closeup].jpg

Figure 6. Desert parsnip, T. glaucifolia, grows happily in the red centre in SA, WA, NT, QLD and north-west NSW. Atlas of Living Australia.
Trachymene glaucifolia [Desert Parsnip - ATLAS] sml.jpeg

Figure 7. Yellow-flowered Queensland parsnip, T. ochracea, common in the south-western and central parts of that state. Atlas of Living Australia.
Trachymene ochracea [QLD desert parsnip - ATLAS] sml.jpeg

Figure 8. The West Australian purple parsnip, T. cyanopetala, which is also common on the Eyre peninsula and in western Victoria. Atlas of Living Australia.
Trachymene cyanopetala [WA purple parsnip - ATLAS].jpeg

Figure 9. Southern dwarf parsnip, T. pilosa, also common in the West-Australian wheat belt region. Atlas of Living Australia.
Trachymene pilosa [Dwarf Parsnip - ATLAS].jpeg

Figure 10. European wild parsnip flower, Pastinaca sativa, for comparison. Not to be confused with fennel or dill. European wild parsnip has radish- or celery-like leaves and can be found wild across the entire northern hemisphere, including North America. Wikimedia commons.
Pastinaca sativa [European parsnip flower wikicommons].jpg

Figure 11. Native Australian parsnip tuber, T. incisa. This would be an adult specimen, probably between 2-3 years old. © Mitchell Park, Cattai National Park, NSW.
Trachymene incisa [tuber Mitchell Park, Cattai NSW].jpg


Native parsnips can be used in the same way as European versions. They are best served roasted in fat with a sprinkle of salt, or pan fried in butter or oil, but can also be enjoyed raw, sliced thin and crunchy on salads. Australian wild parsnips are typically smaller than European ones and grow slower. They are best harvested between 1 and 2 years old, with large specimens typically being 3 or more years old. The older they get the woodier their root cores become; it may be necessary to slice large parsnips in half and remove the woody central core, just as with large European parsnips.

It is always advisable to leave a few flowering specimens behind when harvesting so that they may continue to propagate from seed, ensuring there will always be a supply available at your secret location. Native parsnips may be considered for cultivation purposes in rocky or sandy garden situations, their preferred habitat in the wild, if only for their beautiful yearly display of delicate flowers.

It is also worth remembering that it is illegal to remove native plants from National Parks (all of the plants in my photos above were not harvested; I cannot comment on Mitchell Park's tuber photograph). It is better to look for wild parsnip for harvest on private property with the owner's permission, or in State forests or other permissible locations.
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