Wild Parsnip has become a common site along the roadways in our communities these days, and I am here to warn you about the dark side of this plant. Although it is very pretty with tall regal stems and yellow lacey flowers, don’t be fooled, it is a very dangerous plant.
A native to Europe and Asia, Wild Parsnip was likely brought to North America many years ago by European settlers. Unfortunately, this plant has gone from being a cultivated plant to an invasive species we are now having difficulty controlling. A member of the carrot and parsley family the root is actually edible, but I DO NOT recommend trying to harvest them.
Wild Parsnip is a biennial, meaning it grows the first year, forming roots and a small flower. The second year a tall plant is formed, which dies during that second year.
The flower produces many seeds which are spread very easily via wind, forming many new plants to begin the process again. Very large thick stands of Wild Parsnip are not uncommon.
There has been a lot of news reports about people being injured while handling this plant. What you need to know is that the sap that is produced inside the thick stem is extremely toxic. If your skin comes in contact with the sap, it produces a very painful reaction, much like a burn. You may also experience rashes or blisters. Once you have been exposed to the sap your skin becomes very sensitive to sunlight, and you will likely be told to keep the area that was exposed out of the direct sunlight. If you believe that you have come in contact with the sap from the stems, immediately wash the area very well, being extremely careful to avoid touching your eye area.
If you have Wild Parsnip on your property be extremely careful if you attempt to remove it yourself. Please remember to wear protective clothing, including long sleeves and long pants, heavy rubber gloves, eye protection, ideally a disposable suit over your clothing would be the perfect solution. Remember to wash your rubber gloves very well after handling the plant, along with your clothing of course.
If you have a small number of plants on your property you can attempt to dig them out, digging the tap root, trying to get as much of it as you possibly can. You will have to check back regularly to re-dig the area of any roots you missed. Ideally, check for the plant in the spring when it is a smaller low growing plant and easier to remove.
Where it is permitted you can use chemical treatment, or if personal chemical treatment is not allowed, hire someone to spray the area. Another way to control an area of unwanted growth is to tarp with thick plastic, leaving this in place for at least one full growing season to kill off all growth. Once you remove the tarp you can rehabilitate the soil and replant with more desirable plantings.
Please be careful and keep a watch out for this invasive plant. Please call the office if you have Wild Parsnip that you need removed and do not wish to attempt it yourself.