Warning – It’s Wild Parsnip Season
Have you seen this by the roadside? It’s found in 45 states. It’s in bloom in my part of Vermont now. It is wild parsnip (Pastinaca satina). The flower looks a lot like Queen Anne’s Lace, except that it is yellow. The leaves resemble celery leaves. The stem is grooved and hollow, growing 2 to 5 feet tall. It is a nasty invasive species. Wild parsnip is not very particular about soil conditions and its seeds can remain viable in the soil for four years; once an infestation begins, it can spread to form dense stands as it crowds out other species.
I found out about wild parsnip the hard way several years ago. All parts of the plants contain a substance (psoralen) that cause phytophotodermatitis. That means an inflammation (itis) of the skin (derm) by a plant (phyto) with the help of sunlight (photo). Have you ever had poison ivy? My opinion is that wild parsnip is much worse. The rash begins 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the plant juices and sunlight. In mild cases, the skin reddens and feels sunburned. In more severe cases, the skin reddens first, then blisters and for a while the skin feels like it has been scalded. I had huge, painful, weeping blisters on my arms. The scars it left behind lasted for many months. Keep away from this plant! Clouds do a better job of cutting down visible light than they do UV rays; a cloudy day won’t protect you if you contact the plant’s juices.
This photo is after the blisters have subsided; this farmer was having trouble with his discbine, shut off the PTO, and knelt in the newly-mown swath to work on it. Unfortunately, there was wild parsnip in the hay and he was wearing shorts. Don’t let this be you!