Noticing a lot of yellow flowers along the road ditches lately? It could be wild parsnip, also called poison parsnip, and for good reason. Wild parsnip can cause a painful rash and blistering to skin if you touch the plant. The plant’s sap and the sun break down skin cells and tissues, leaving large blisters, bumps, and burns. The open wound is susceptible to infection.
Wild parsnip is a non-native species and is rapidly invading Chisago County. Just a few years ago, this plant was not a problem, but it now seems to be everywhere along roadsides. The plant is able to move in to disturbed areas, such as along edges of trails or roads. It’s not likely to invade well established vegetation, such as native prairies.
The flowers of wild parsnip are yellow, looking similar to a yellow version of Queen Anne’s Lace or carrots. The plant can get tall, up to 4-5 feet if not mowed down. It has alternate leaves with 5-15 egg shaped leaflets. Many seeds are produced on each plant and can remain viable in the soil for four years or more. For more information on identification, visit the MN DNR’s webpage (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/herbaceous/wildparsnip.html) or Minnesota Wildflowers website (http://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/wild-parsnip).
If you find wild parsnip in your yard or along your driveway, there are several options for getting rid of it. Chemical control is effective; follow the label instructions carefully. You can prevent the spread of seed by mowing or cutting the plant before seeds set. Cutting the root just below the soil surface with a shovel can also kill the plant and prevent re-sprouting. If you cut off the stalk while there are flowers present, remove the cut portion to prevent the seeds ripening and germinating. Check the area frequently for newly sprouted seedlings and treat quickly. Be sure to always protect your skin from touching any part of the plant; wear long sleeve, pants, and gloves at a minimum.
If you do come into contact with wild parsnip, immediately wash the area and stay indoors, out of the sun. Avoiding sunlight may prevent the blisters from forming. If you do get blisters, do not rupture them.
Keep the area clean and use an antiseptic cream to avoid secondary infection. Manage the pain by placing a cool, wet cloth gently over the affected area. The pain can last several weeks. If the exposure is serious enough, seek medical attention.
There is one native plant that may be confused with wild parsnip, but does not cause the skin reaction. Golden Alexanders are usually much shorter, reaching 2-3 feet tall, and generally less robust than wild parsnip. They can grow in similar habitats, but Golden Alexanders are generally done blooming by the time wild parsnip starts blooming. Their flowers are very similar, both yellow flat-top clusters. The flowers of wild parsnip overall seem looser and less organized than Golden Alexanders. If in doubt, take a photograph of the plant’s leaves and flowers. Send photos to Jacquelynn.firstname.lastname@example.org for identification. Do not bring in samples (we don’t want to get a rash either).