Wild Parsnip - A dangerous weed in Madison, WI


I read a lot. Sometimes for research, sometimes for pleasure, and sometimes simply when I can't sleep. I read something last night that I thought was worth sharing. Wild parsnip can cause permanent blindness! 

I'm sure many people haven't even heard of wild parsnip. It's a relatively new weed species in our area and, similar to poison ivy, you don't want to get too close.

Image Credit: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 634.

The yellow flower heads are distinctive, as are the dissected leaves.  The plant generally grows about 4' tall and looks similar to a sturdier version of a wild carrot or Queen Anne's Lace.  You can see more photos at http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PASA2 . Be sure to look up the plant and learn to identify it before it’s too late. 

Chemicals in the sap react with sunlight (even on a cloudy day), causing severe burns and rashes. I read an account last night of permanent blindness from the sap getting into someone’s eyes.

I hadn't heard of wild parsnip until about 6 years ago. It's spread so fast that now I see the plant all over. It's often found in disturbed soils, like along country roads. I've also found it in numerous areas right in and around Madison, WI.

The rapid spread of this plant is just another reminder about the dangers of invasive plants.  Every year invasive plants displace more and more of our native plants. Most don't hurt us physically like wild parsnip does, but they certainly do damage our state's natural areas. Let's all try to identify and remove the worst of the worst from our own properties as a starting point.