With its feathery, delicate foliage and umbrella-shaped flower heads, dill is a standout herb in both gardens and containers. But dill has some lookalike plants that you might confuse it with at first glance. Knowing the differences between dill and imposters allows you to correctly identify plants and make sure you’re harvesting the right one for culinary use.
Fennel is probably the plant most often mistaken for dill. Like dill, it boasts aromatic, fine, lacy leaves and tiny yellow flowers. However, fennel forms a bulb at its base unlike the wispy dill plant. Additionally, fennel foliage tends to be more bluish-green than fresh green. Crush the leaves and sniff—dill smells lemony while fennel is definitively licorice-scented.
Also called Queen Anne’s lace and bishop’s flower, Ammi majus looks so similar to dill that the two plants are actually related. However, Queen Anne’s lace is actually a wildflower rather than an herb. Its lacy leaves are slightly broader than dill’s thread-fine foliage, and its white flower clusters are larger and more tightly mounded than dill’s yellow umbels.
Sweet cicely is an old-fashioned medicinal herb with fern-like leaves and small white flowers. The foliage bears a strong resemblance to dill leaves, but sweet cicely lacks the distinctive white flower heads that make dill easy to recognize. And if you gently bruise the leaves, sweet cicely releases a sweet, anise-like aroma unlike the tangy lemon essence of dill.
Bronze fennel is a decorative cultivar of common fennel prized for its reddish-bronze foliage that looks nearly feathery like dill. However, bronze fennel can grow much larger—up to 5 feet tall—and again has that telltale fennel bulb at the base. And like regular fennel, it smells distinctly licorice-like.
A delicate annual herb used in French cuisine, chervil looks almost identical to dill when young. Both have lacy leaves and grow rapidly once germinated. Chervil leaves are more rounded while dill’s foliage is cut into fine, frilly segments. And the flowers differ—chervil has small white umbels that bloom earlier than dill’s yellow flower heads.
Perennial yarrow plants are grown more often for their attractive, fern-like foliage than for medicinal use these days. The feathery leaves bear some resemblance to the delicate foliage of dill. But yarrow leaves tend to be more coarsely cut and aromatic when crushed. Plus, yarrow sends up clustered flowers that look like miniature shaving brushes rather than delicate umbels.
Distinguish Dill by Different Growing Conditions
In addition to physical characteristics, comparing growing conditions can further help distinguish dill from lookalike plants. True dill thrives in full sun and cooler temperatures, growing best as a spring/fall crop. Imposters like fennel, yarrow and Queen Anne’s lace share dill’s preference for lots of sunlight but better tolerate summer heat and humidity.
Chervil and sweet cicely grow better as shade-loving herbs for early spring or fall harvesting after frosts. And bronze fennel will scorch if not given some afternoon shade in hot climates. Factor in ideal growing conditions along with plant anatomy when attempting to tell dill from doppelgangers.
Distinguish Dill by The Scent
One of the best ways to discern dill from lookalike plants is by scent. Crush a small portion of the plant’s foliage and sniff it. The fresh, lemony essence of true dill is hard to miss. Sweet cicely and chervil have an anise/licorice scent. Fennel and bronze fennel will smell strongly of licorice. Subtly bruise a leaf next time you come across a “dill” plant just to be sure before using it culinary endeavors or harvesting seeds!
Don’t be fooled by plants mimicking the delicate, ferny foliage of prized dill in your herb garden. While several herbs and ornamentals may resemble dill at first or second glance, small differences in foliage, flowers, ideal conditions, and scent set them all apart. Familiarize yourself with dill’s distinctive characteristics as well as subtle variations of pretenders. Before long, you’ll have no trouble discerning true dill from its many lookalike plants.