Wild Parsnip (also called Poison Parsnip), has leaves and stems that contain a toxic sap that can cause the kind of chemical burn associated with poison ivy. Rash, blistering, discoloration, and scarring may result when sap-tainted skin is exposed to sunlight. Animals can also experience Wild Parsnip burns on areas with little hair and lightly pigmented skin.
Wild Parsnip, a native of Eurasia, was brought under cultivation for its edible root, finding its way into soups and stews since ancient times. Introduced into North America in the 1800’s, it is becoming a common invasive in some parts of Vermont. The plant has been reported in Dummerston, and we encourage readers to contact the Conservation Commission with any sightings. The plant prefers roadsides, pasture, meadows, and other unmaintained, sunny areas. The plant has visibly differentiated, biennial growing stages.
In its first year, Poison Parsnip looks like a small to mid-sized plant, with a rosette of leafed stems emerging from a central foot-hold in the earth. The leaves are opposed, broad, and oval with toothed margins. In its first year, the plant remains under 2-feet tall.
In its second year, the plant looks significantly different, growing to 5-feet tall, with yellow flower clusters that resemble Queen Anne’s Lace. Stems are hairy, ridged and hollow, with leaves resembling first year growth. Flowering occurs from May – July.
Obviously, avoiding the plant is the surest way to protect yourself. However, should you find yourself compelled to enter an area where Poison Parsnip is present, prevention is practical. When using mowers or string trimmers, wear eye protection, gloves, long sleeved shirts, and long pants tucked into socks. Wash clothes immediately after work, along with your skin. Should your skin come into contact with sap, wash with soap immediately and keep skin protected from sunlight for at least 48 hours. If a rash develops, see your physician right away.
As Wild Parsnip produces lots of seed, it can establish itself readily. Avoiding flowering is a goal for control, with hand-pulling or regular mowing of areas an effective, natural control method. Once again, we encourage readers to contact us with any sightings, and to use protective measures when coming into contact with the plant.
The State of Vermont has issued a health advisory.