Wicked wild parsnip widens its territory

Once again when I was searching for a topic to write about, one was growing right under my nose in Connie’s perennial garden.  We had what we thought was a stray perennial flower.  I began to be concerned when it grew so fast and tall.  When it reached five feet and still growing, I began to look through my weed notebook and found information on wild parsnip, which is a very toxic and menacing weed.

Wild parsnip is native to Europe and Asia but now grows throughout the United States.  It is one of the fastest growing nuisance weeds in southeastern Minnesota.  Farmers need to worry more than homeowners, as lawns and other thick grasses seem to repel wild parsnip.  It favors plowed or graded land and does well where the ditches of side roads have been rebuilt.  It loves open areas along trails, roads, and streams where its seeds spread freely.  Those who like biking and hiking may need to take extra care.

This invasive biennial is related to the edible parsnip you may grow in your vegetable garden.  Like the garden parsnip, wild parsnip has a long, white/yellow taproot that is edible, although I would not want to eat it.  The first year a rosette of leaves emerge and grow to about one foot tall.  Egg-shaped leaflets are in pairs along the stem.  During the second year, it sends up a thick grooved flower stalk.  Bright yellow flowers in flat clusters, like dill, appear from May to October.  Flowering plants may grow as tall as five feet and it is spread by seed.

The thing that makes this plant so dangerous is when it is damaged, it releases a chemical or sap that is absorbed through the skin. After exposure to sunlight, the chemicals in the parsnip’s sap can cause a burn within the skin’s layers.  Some burns can be so severe that is causes blisters that can last for weeks and end up needing medical attention.

When I was ready to remove the plant from our garden, I talked to Donna Tatting.  Donna is a Master Gardener who helps me with my articles as well as writes many of her own.  Donna suggested that we wear long sleeve shirts and gloves.  Then take it down in parts with a shears or loppers and put it into a garbage bag and dispose of it in the trash, which we did.

For more information about Wild Parsnip and pictures that will help you identify it, you can visit the Minnesota DNR website. You can also just do a Google Image search for more pictures of this plant.


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