Wild Parsnip, like many of our invasive plants, looks harmless enough.
It is an herbaceous (not woody) plant that grows about four feet tall in the full sun of fields and road-sides.
Wild Parsnip is a member of the carrot family, and has a long, thick and edible taproot.
The thick, ribbed stems look a bit like celery.
The compound leaves (many leaflets on a stalk) give it an airy, ferny aspect.
Yellow flowers, produced in July and August, grow in an umbel (think umbrella-shaped),and are similar in appearance to Dill, or Queen Anne’s Lace.
Wild Parsnip is also a little bit famous.
It is listed, in some states, as a Prohibited Noxious Weed.
It was featured, last year, on a CBS News broadcast titled, Poisonous Plants Like Wild Parsnip Could Spoil Your Summer.
Not only does wild parsnip have all of the usual oh-so-annoying features of an invasive species (no natural enemies, crowds out native plants, makes areas uninhabitable to native plants and animals…we are starting to see a pattern here, aren’t we?!), but it is also classified as poisonous!
If the sap from cut stems or leaves of this plant gets on the skin, and is then exposed to sunlight, it can cause phytophotodermatitis. That’s a long name which basically describes painful reddening, burning and blistering of the skin. The CBS News report told of a man who was afflicted after mowing through a patch of wild parsnip growing near his home. According to the victim, the pain was tremendous, the blisters lasted for weeks, and the scars much longer. I’ve opted to not put photos of badly reddened, swollen and blistered extremities on this page, but be warned: this is nasty stuff!
Removal of plants by pulling is quite an effective method of getting rid of wild parsnip…but be careful! Gloves, long pants and long sleeves should be worn when dealing with this plant.
Watch for wild parsnip in fields, road-sides, unmowed pastures, edges of woods and open areas, especially where the natural growth has been disturbed.
Awareness is the first step. With vigilance, working together, we can save and protect our island.