Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is an invasive plant from Europe and Asia that has become naturalized in North America. It has been around for years but only recently is it really becoming widespread. It is well suited for colonizing disturbed areas but can also be found in open fields and lawns. Wild parsnip sap can cause painful, localized burning and blistering of the skin that can cause blisters and skin discoloration. The scarring cause from the skin irritation can last for years.
The easiest time to recognize Wild Parsnip is in July when it is in flower. The first year wild parsnip forms a rosette of leaves close to the ground. The second year it sends up a 3-4 flower stalk which flowers, set seeds and then the whole plant dies. Each plant produces plenty of seeds to keep future generations coming.
The irritating substance in wild parsnip is unique in that it needs light to take effect. Its the combination of your skin coming into contact with the leaves or chopped pieces of this plant then having sunlight hit your skin that cause the reaction.
Wild parsnip is related to Queen Anne's lace and so it is not surprising that the two plants are similar in appearance. Queen Anne's lace has white flowers while wild parsnip flowers are a greenish yellow. The leaves on wild parsnip are much more coarse than those on Queen Anne's Lace.
The New York DEC web site offers this fact sheet on Wild Parsnip which includes how to identify it.
If you think you might have Wild Parsnip growing please avoid contact with this plant. If you can safely get a clear picture of the plant with out touching it and would like to identify if it is wild parsnip please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated April 25, 2019