Don’t Pick Wild Parsnip: Wildflower Wednesday

by Kathy Purdy on July 24, 2013 · 19 comments

in Native/Invasive, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints

Wild parsnip did this--blisters from the sap, combined with exposure to sun

This is one plant you don’t want to pick–unless you like blisters.

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) lines the ditches of the rural roads I walk and drive on. Its yellow umbels reach peak bloom around the same time as the orange ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva). The yellow and orange complement each other nicely, but this is one wildflower you don’t want to pick.
Wild parsnip grows thickly in ditches and can take over fields

Given a few years, wild parsnip will outcompete all other vegetation.

I first wrote about wild parsnip in 2004, and I’m really surprised that this plant and what it can do isn’t better known by now, especially since it seems to be taking over along the roadsides. I first learned about wild parsnip when determining the cause of blisters my boys got after string trimming weeds for a neighbor. The Wisconsin Natural Resources article I found back then is still the best information about wild parsnip that I’ve found. I printed it out and took it to my children’s doctor, and he admitted he had diagnosed a case of poison ivy the week before that was probably the burn from wild parsnip.
Juice or sap from the wild parsnip leaf will cause burns when exposed to sunlight.

This is a wild parsnip leaf.

Wild parsnip does its dirty work in an entirely different way than poison ivy. You can touch wild parsnip and nothing will happen, because it is the sap that must get on your skin. So any snapped stem or torn leaf, such as might happen if you were pushing the plant out of your way on a hike, or picking the flowers, or string trimming it down to neaten the roadside, will leave you vulnerable. And then, the sap on your skin must be exposed to sunlight to cause the burn.
The flower of the wild parsnip is pretty, but don't pick it.

This is the flower.

We’ve been battling this plant for over ten years at our old house. A couple of weeks ago, two of my sons went over there to cut the lawn and string trim. The one who wore shorts had blisters on his calf and around his ankles the next day.
Wild parsnip blisters are caused by a reaction between the plant's sap and sunlight.

Don’t mow or string trim wild parsnip without gloves, long sleeves, and long pants–even when it’s hot.

Not all wildflowers play nice.

More About Wild Parsnip

Botanical Dermatology Database–if you suspect you have a plant-related skin problem, this is a good place to do research.
Wild parsnip vs poison ivy Which do you have?
Be Aware of Wild ParsnipNY Department of Transportation document with a good selection of images of all the plant’s stages.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy's been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What you plant in your garden reflects your own sensibility, your concept of beauty, your sense of form. Every true garden is an imaginative construct, after all.
Stanley Kunitz

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Wrenaissance Art July 31, 2013 at 7:23 am

Thanks for that information!
Do you know if this affects dogs?
Some pups, like mine, love to jump and roll in all kinds of thickety plants. :-/

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Kathy Purdy July 31, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Wren, I don’t know if it affects dogs. It would have to get on their skin, not their fur, so I am guessing it wouldn’t bother them at all except under very unusual circumstances, like a hairless dog or one shaved to the skin.

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Corner Garden Sue July 29, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I don’t know if any of that stuff is in Nebraska. It looks a lot like our Golden Alexander and Lovage, both of which are also in the carrot family. It’s too bad that it’s spreading so much where you live. I hope your son’s leg heals well.

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Donna@Gardens Eye View July 26, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Wow I can see how these can be confused with Golden Alexander which I have and it has bloomed…too bad it is not a native and has such a bad bite.

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Kathy Purdy July 26, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Donna, I had golden alexander growing wild at my old house. It doesn’t get nearly as big as wild parsnip. A baby wild parsnip might be mistaken for golden alexander, but not a healthy full grown one.

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Mitch Parker July 26, 2013 at 3:01 am

I also experienced that Kathy but your blisters are worse than mine. I’m sure it healed by now. I already removed all the wild parsnip in my lawn. It’s a relief. :-)

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Alana July 25, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Thank you for this much needed post. I will be sharing on social media, and have already pinned it on my Wildflower board on Pinterest.

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Kathy Purdy July 26, 2013 at 9:28 am

Thanks, Alana.

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Tracy July 25, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Sorry to hear about the blisters, but I have to ask a question: Why was your son string trimming while wearing shorts? Just fomr a safety perspective, that is not a very smart thing to do. Had he been wearing long pants neither the sap, nor exposure to the sun would have been an issue.

Signed,
Sammy Safety

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Hannah July 25, 2013 at 5:48 am

That family does have some very poisonous plants like Poison Hemlock. I hadn’t heard they could cause rashes. Good information.

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Shirley F. July 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Ooooh that looks pretty nasty. Good to be reminded that not all wildflowers are as nice as they look.

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Lea July 24, 2013 at 2:43 pm

They are pretty growing in large numbers like that.
Now I know to leave them alone – Thanks for the warning!
Happy Wildflower Wednesday!
Lea
Lea’s Menagerie

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Mary Schier July 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Yikes, that’s a bad rash. I’ve been battling wild parsnip for years. I pull the babies if the ground is wet and I can get the entire root. Otherwise, I wait until they are large and blooming, cut the flowers off and put them in a plastic bag, which goes into the trash. All of this is done with gloves, long sleeves, etc. Good luck fighting this!

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Kathy Purdy July 24, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Sounds like you’ve got a method down pat. Do the plants try to make seeds a second year if you deadhead them like that? Typically wild parsnip is a biennial.

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Rose July 24, 2013 at 11:32 am

We have this growing behind some outbuildings on our farm, and it’s also growing rampant along the roadsides here, too. Now you have me curious–I thought I had poison ivy, but perhaps I brushed against some of these wild parsnips instead. Thanks for the helpful warning–your poor son!

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Kathy Purdy July 24, 2013 at 4:36 pm

The photo was taken a week ago. The blisters have gone down by now.

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Alison July 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

Ouch! That looks nasty. I hope he isn’t too uncomfortable.

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Kathy Purdy July 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm

He was uncomfortable for the first couple of days, but the worst is over. The skin will be discolored for months, though.

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Gail July 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

Sounds like a nasty rash and a good reason to be extra careful~You’re right some wildflowers don’t behave well. Happy Wildflower Wednesday. xogail

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