Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Close-up of clusters of small, yellow wild parsnip flowers.

 
 

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), a non-native plant, was first discovered in Minnesota in the 1990s. While this plant causes a range of impacts to the environment, the largest concern from this invading species is its ability to inflict burns to skin of people that come into contact with the sap from the plant. Wild parsnip is found in open places such as roadsides, pastures, and disturbed areas.

Warning: Avoid skin contact with the toxic sap of the plant by wearing gloves, long sleeves and long pants. When the juice of wild parsnip comes in contact with skin in the presence of sunlight it can cause a chemical burn which can look like a rash with blistering and discoloration of the skin (phytophotodermatitis).

Description

Appearance

Wild parsnip spends one or more years as a clump of low-lying leaves with no vertical stem. The next year, it grows up a flowering stalk, blooms, and then dies. It is 6 inches tall in the rosette stage and 4 feet tall in the flowering stage, with yellow flowers.

Leaves and Stem

Alternate leaves are made up of 5–15 egg-shaped leaflets. Leaflets have variously-sized lobes and coarse teeth along their edges. On flowering stalks, upper leaves are smaller than leaves closer to the base. The stems are stout and hollow, with distinctive grooves.

Flowers

Second-year plants produce a stalk topped with flat-topped broad flower clusters 2–6 inches wide, with numerous five-petaled yellow flowers. Wild parsnip blooms from June to late summer.

Seeds

Each plant can produce dozens of small, oval, disc-shaped, slightly ribbed, straw-colored seeds. Seeds remain viable in the soil for up to four years.

Roots

Wild parsnip has a long, thick, taproot that looks and smells similar to cultivated parsnips.

Biology

Wild parsnip is often found in disturbed areas, including along roadsides, right-of-ways, abandoned fields, and forest edges. It does not do well in shaded habitats. This plant typically has a two-year life-cycle. First-year plants are a clump of low-lying leaves called a basal rosette. In their second year, plants grow a tall stalk, flower, set seed, and die. Wild parsnip rosettes are one of the first plants to green up in the spring and stay green later in the fall than many native plants.

Origin and Spread

A native of Europe and Asia, this plant has escaped from cultivation. It was grown as a root vegetable and is common throughout the U.S. Seeds spread via human and animal activity and through movement of wind and water. Wild parsnip is most abundant in southeastern Minnesota, but is present in most counties in Minnesota. Visit EDDMapS to see its current distribution.

Don't be fooled by these look-alikes

  • Golden alexanders, Zizia aurea (native) – smooth shiny stem, leaves with typically only three leaflets
  • Heart-leaved alexanders, Zizia aptera (native) – smooth shiny stem, basal leaves are simple and oval (not made up of leaflets)
  • Cow parsnip, Heracleum lanatum (native) – has white flowers
  • Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota (non-native) – has white flowers
 
Regulatory Classification

This species is a Minnesota Department of Agriculture Prohibited Noxious Weed on the Control List meaning that efforts must be made to prevent the spread of seeds or other propagating parts. Additionally no transportation, propagation, or sale is allowed.

Threat to Minnesota
  • Wild parsnip readily moves into disturbed habitats and is often found along roadsides, forest edges, and trails. It invades slowly, but once the population builds up, it spreads rapidly and can severely modify open dry, moist, and wet-moist habitats. Wild parsnip has also been found to invade native prairies.
  • When the sap of wild parsnip contacts skin in the presence of sunlight, it can cause chemical burns that can look like a rash with blistering and discoloration of the skin (phytophotodermatitis).
What you should do

One way that invasive plant seeds and fragments can spread is in soil. Sometimes plants are planted purposefully. You can prevent the spread of invasive plants.
PlayCleanGo: Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks

  • REMOVE plants, animals & mud from boots, gear, pets & vehicle.
  • CLEAN your gear before entering & leaving the recreation site.
  • STAY on designated roads & trails.
  • PLANT non-invasive species.
Native Substitutes
 
Control Methods

Mechanical control can be done by cutting or pulling the plant by hand or with equipment such as cutting blades. Cut the plant below the root crown before seeds set. Mow or cut the base of the flowering stem. Wear protective clothing (long pants, sleeves, gloves, etc.) whenever handling wild parsnip to avoid coming in contact with the juices of the plant.

Herbicide control can be done using glyphosate or selective metsulfuron. Spot application of herbicides can be done after a prescribed burn, when wild parsnip is one of the first plants to green up.

Kill but do not remove weeds from an infested area when possible. If removal of plant materials is necessary, properly contain and transport the materials to a disposal site that will accept and properly dispose of noxious weed materials. Additional information on disposal.

Reporting

Report new occurrences by submitting a report through EDDMapS Midwest, emailing Arrest The Pest, calling Arrest the Pest (1-888-545-6684), or contacting your local county agricultural inspector.

Resources