Wild Parsnip Is Thriving in Midwest; Plant’s Poison Causes Painful Blisters and Rash

Illinois residents are being warned by the Department of Natural Resources about a poisonous plant growing throughout Illinois that causes painful blisters and a rash similar to severe burns when touched.

Wild Parsnip is spreading across parts of the Midwest, according to health officials, including Iowa and Illinois. The plant — a member of the carrot family — is common throughout North America including Canada. Wild Parsnip has been reported from Alaska and all of the continental U.S. except Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In Illinois, wild parsnip has been recorded from every county and can become a serious problem in mesic prairies. Mesic prairies are prairies that retain some water that drains slowly. The moisture and water content can be high for short periods of time.

From the outside the wild parsnip – also known as Pastinaca sativa – has lacy, yellow-green heads similar to wildflowers and can look harmless. But the plant secretes an oily sap containing psoralen that causes a severe skin reaction when it contacts the skin and then is exposed to sunlight, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports.

Wild Parsnip flowers from May to July, and can grow from 6 inches to 6 feet tall. The plant is often found in roadside ditches, fields and along bike paths.

In the outdoors, when the plant is encountered, avoid using a lawn string trimmer to remove the plant. The high-speed breaking of the parsnip tissue will spray a high quantity of the toxin into the air.

The plant should be carefully removed while wearing gloves.




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