How to Grow Daucus (Chocolate Lace Flower)
Daucus, also commonly called Chocolate Lace Flower, Chocolate Flower, Chocolate Queen Anne’s Lace, came onto the scene a few years back and took the florist and flower growing world by storm.
The umbellifer heads floating like clouds on strong long stems are such a beautiful sight. The variation in color runs from a dark burgundy to light cocoa to a bright white and changes as the flower ages. Even after the bloom is finished, the seed heads are this awesome weird curly magical structure that looks like some sort of chair a tiny fairy might sit on.
Despite looking like a color variant of Ammi, it is only distantly related to the Ammi majus and is actually a variety of Queen Anne’s Lace (the wild carrot that is endemic to the UK). It grows fairly quick - blooming in 65 days from seed - and from my experience blooms for a much longer period than Ammi.
Daucus is a much requested flower not only due to the insatiable appetite of brides and floral designers for burgundy, but also for the fact that it adds a very special design element to a design with its floating shimmering head of hundreds of individual flowers. Even smaller blooms and seedheads add a graceful and enchanting look to an arrangement.
So how do you grow this magical flower? It’s not that difficult. In fact, if you’ve grown carrots before, you can grow daucus because it is pretty similar, given that is technically an ornamental wild flower.
1. Select your seed
Daucus has had several varieties released recently, possibly due to competing seed suppliers and companies wanting to produce their own variety. ‘Black Knight’ was the popular variety for years, but now the popular varieties are ‘Dara’ and ‘Purple Kisses’, both of which produce the purple/black as well as the cocoa/mauve and the white.
It’s important to get fresh seed - we made the mistake of sowing year-old opened seed, and the germination rate was subpar, so always order fresh seed. Geoseed carries Purple Kisses, while Johnny's carries Dara, in addition to Floret and Harris seeds. Lisa Mason Ziegler carries the OG 'Black Knight' seed at the Gardener's Workshop
Technically daucus will bloom in 65 days from seed, although you may of course find that timeline to be accelerated or slower based on your growing conditions (Floret suggests it's more like 100). We can usually get a couple cuts off one crop of daucus before it starts to slow down, so we recommend succession sowing a new batch every two weeks or so.
Daucus seed isn’t too tiny, and is light colored so it is easy to visualize your seed. We sow into mini-soil blocks, cover and keep humid until 50% of the seeds have started to germinate.
4. Growing out
Daucus will take a couple weeks to get its first true leaves. We find that the central stem is usually very thin and wobbly looking, but they are much stronger than you would initially think. We usually wait until they get two or three sets of true leaves before planting out.
5. Planting and harvesting
Plant daucus in a relatively sunny spot. If you can plant in the fall to overwinter, your stems will be massive and gorgeous, but if you’re like the rest of us and didn’t get them fall planted, early spring will work just fine. They can take a bit of cold, so don’t be afraid to get the popped into the ground. Water and feed well, and let them grow out.
In around a month and a half, the bunch of leaves will start producing vertical growth that will turn into the flower stem. The flowers are ready to be picked when more than 50% of the little flowers have opened on the head. We usually get 4-5 days of vase life, although when we pick it when it’s going to seed it usually lasts more like 7 days.
To harvest, cut early in the morning and cut very low at the base, right above the little rosette of leaves - again, this will ensure that the plant will keep producing new stems right at the bottom of the plant. Strip most of the leaves and plunge into a bucket of cold water. Let them rest for at least 12 hours if not more.
It’s important to note that given daucus is in the Umbelliferae family that some people may have phytophotodermatitis due to the oils from the plant. That means that if the oil gets on your skin and is exposed to sunlight it can cause the skin to burn and bubble as if you were exposed to high heat or solar radiation. Mild cases may look like a bad sunburn, while major cases may cause blistering and dark scarring that can last for months.
While it doesn’t necessarily affect everyone, it would probably be a good idea to be very careful when harvesting, especially if you’ve had reaction to daucus or ammi before. Use disposable gloves and long sleeved shirts and pants when working around it and make sure to remove anything that might have come in contact with it in a way that it does not contact your skin (sometimes I think that a full hazmat suit might be appropriate for harvesting)
6. Floral Design Use
Daucus works well for us in design anywhere you would use ammi - the big umbel shaped heads work well in mixed bouquets, high-end arrangements and even bridal bouquets. Their longevity also means they work well for installations and subscriptions as well.
Their color also means they help to act as sort of a light screen, allowing for blending from one flower to the next. They go perfectly with Cafe au Laits and other blush colored flowers as well as the burgundies of Black Knight scabiosa and Karma Choc dahlias.
7. In the Garden
Daucus is a very fun annual that works well in the garden as a background plant or as a screen. I prefer seeing them en masse as one big frothy cloud, but they can also work well tucked into the back of a border or mixed in with other plants as well.
I hope that you are as excited about daucus as I am for this year! It’s not too late to get started with them - they germinate relatively easily so long as you have fresh seed, and will give you an abundance of blooms all season long.