Daucus carota ssp. sativus

carrot leaves


Daucus carota ssp. sativus

(Hoffm.) Arcang. 1882

pronounced: DOW-kuss kar-OH-tuh subspecies sat-EYE-vuss

(Apiaceae — the celery family)


common name: carrot

Daucus is derived from the Greek δαυκος (daykos), the wild carrot; carota is the Roman name for the vegetable; sativus is Latin for ‘cultivated’. ‘Carrot’ comes from the Latin word, via the Middle French carotte.

The wild ancestors of the carrot are likely to have come from Afghanistan, which remains the centre of diversity for Daucus carota. Selective breeding over the centuries of the naturally occurring sub-species sativus reduced its bitterness, increased its sweetness, and minimized the woody core. Originally, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, and not for their roots. Some relatives of the carrot are still grown for these, e.g. parsley, fennel, dill and cummin. The first mention of the root in classical sources comes from the 1st century AD. The modern carrot appears to have been introduced into Europe between the 8th and 10th centuries AD. The 12th century Arab Andalusian agriculturalist, Ibn al-’Awwam, describes both red and yellow carrots. Orange-coloured carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century. The English antiquary John Aubrey (1626–1697) wrote that some very old men, still alive in 1668, remembered the first ever sowing of carrots in Somerset, at Beckington.

Carrots come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. The cultivars grown today can be grouped into two broad classes, eastern and western. The eastern carrots were the ones earlier mentioned from Afghanistan, domesticated there in the 10th century or earlier. Descendants of these are commonly purple or yellow, and often have branched roots. The western carrots are descended from the 17th century ones introduced into the Netherlands. Their orange colour made them a popular emblem of the House of Orange and the struggle for Dutch independence. The orange colour is the result of the abundant carotenes in these cultivars. While orange carrots are the norm in the west, other colours do exist, including white, yellow, red and purple. These are grown primarily as novelty crops, although purple carrots are now beginning to appear in the supermarkets.

Western carrot cultivars are commonly classified by their root shape:
      • Chantenay carrots are shorter than other cultivars, but have greater girths, sometimes growing up to 8 cm in diameter. They have broad shoulders    and taper towards a blunt, rounded tip. They are most commonly diced for use in canned or frozen foods.
      • Danvers carrots have a conical shape, with well-defined shoulders and tapering to a point. They are somewhat shorter than the Imperator cultivars, but more tolerable of heavy soil. They are often puréed as baby food.
      • Imperator carrots are the ones we normally see in the supermarkets. Their roots are longer than those of other cultivars, and taper to a point.
      • Nantes carrots are almost cylindrical in shape, blunted and rounded at both top and tip. They are often sweeter than the other carrots.

Apart from the beets, carrots contain more sugar than any other vegetable, which makes them a satisfying snack when eaten raw. Carrot juice has also become popular in recent years.

The agricultural pest, Lucerne Leaf Roller Merophyas divulsana, feeds on the plant.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010, 2012
Page last updated 9th December 2018