Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), is a plant species in the genus Foeniculum (treated as the sole species in the genus by most botanists). It is a member of the family Apiaceae (formerly the Umbelliferae). It is a hardy, perennial, umbelliferous herb, with yellow flowers and feathery leaves.
It is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalised elsewhere (particularly, it seems, areas colonized by the Romans) and may now be found growing wild in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on river-banks.
It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. Florence fennel or finocchio is a selection with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable.
Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Mouse Moth and the Anise Swallowtail.
Fennel is a perennial herb. It is erect, glaucous green, and grows to heights of up to 2.5 m, with hollow stems. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform (threadlike), about 0.5 mm wide. (Its leaves are similar to those of dill, but thinner.)
The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 5–15 cm wide, each umbel section having 20–50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. The fruit is a dry seed from 4–10 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly-flavoured leaves and fruits, which are often mistermed "seeds".
Its aniseed flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong.
Fennel has become naturalised along roadsides, in pastures, and in other open sites in many regions, including northern Europe, the United States, southern Canada and in much of Asia and Australia.
It propagates well by seed, and is considered an invasive species and a weed in Australia and the United States.
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