Introduction

Pimpinella L., Sp. pl., 263 (1753). Synonymy: Tragoselinum Tourn. ex Hall., Enum. stirp. Helv. 2, 428 (1742); Anisum Hill, Brit. herb., 424 (1756); Tragium Spreng., Pl. Umbell. prodr., 26 (1813); Ledeburia Link., Enum. hort. Berol., 1, 286 (1821); Gymnosciadium Hochst., Flora, 27, 20 (1844); Apium Caruel Parl., Fl. Ital., 8, 424 (1889), pro parte.

The genus Pimpinella L. (Apiaceae/Umbelliferae) comprises 150 species distributed in Eurasia and Africa, over 16 of which are present in Europe. The derived condition of the family Apiaceae in which Pimpinella is included can be established by certain characters that are frequently found in the group: the generally herbaceous habit of the family; the frequent presence of compound leaves; and the small, inconspicuous flowers, with few floral parts arranged in whorls and grouped in umbel-shaped inflorescences, the result of prolonged coevolution with insects. The presence of inferious ovaries composed of sealed carpels is a further indication of the degree of evolution.

The genus includes herbaceous annual, biannual, or perennial plants (Figure 3.1), generally with a fine hair-covering. The stem is erect, striate, or furrowed lengthways, and it is sometimes woody at the base. Lower leaves are generally simple and rarely pinnatisect, with a toothed or serrated edge, with a (bi)pinnate division of upper leaves. The flowers are bisexual, small, regular; the corolla consist of five white or yellow (sometimes pink or purple) petals that are sometimes slightly emarginate, with the apex bent inward and with the upper surface glabrous or hairy. The calyx is either very small or else absent. The flowers are grouped in umbel-shaped inflorescences (Figure 3.2), which are generally ebracteate, although occasionally one bract and bracteoles are present. The fruit is a morphologically variable schizocarp (Figure 3.3) consisting of two ovoid to subspherical mericarps that are variably compressed laterally and either completely glabrous or have a thick down; primary ribs are inconspicuous to prominent with numerous vittae.

From a pharmacological and economic viewpoint, the most valuable species is P. anisum L., an annual plant of up to 50 cm with white flowers and aromatic fruits (Figure 3.4), covered with fine, short, adpressed hairs. The roots of two other species, P. saxifraga L. and P. major (L.) Hudson, have been traditionally used in medicine. They are perennial herbaceous plants differentiated from P. anisum by their glabrous fruits.

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