A walk through a lovely meadow can quickly turn painful if you unwittingly brush against certain plants. Many of us learned to recognize poison ivy and poison oak by the admonition, “Leaves of three, leave it be.” But wild parsnip is another one to watch out for.
A few years ago I was growing flowers for a friend’s wedding and, scanning the roadsides for wildflowers to round out my bouquets, came across a Queen Anne’s lace lookalike with chartreuse yellow flowers. Perfect, I thought, making a mental note of the location. Imagine my surprise when the following morning’s newspaper had a photo of the flowers with a stern warning to steer clear of them. They were wild parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) and sap from their leaves and stems can cause burns worse than any poison ivy rash.
If you get wild parsnip sap on your skin then expose the skin to sunlight, you may end up with blisters that resemble second-degree burns. This plant-and-sun rash is called phytophotodermatitis (phyto=plant, photo=light) and it can result in skin damage so severe as to cause permanent scarring and discoloration. Get some of the sap in your eyes and it can cause blindness. You won’t know right away that you’ve been exposed; symptoms usually begin about 24 hours after exposure and peak in two or three days.
Eliminating the Plants
Share Your Photos
Help us create a photo album of “plants that hurt” to warn gardeners about plants to avoid. Post photos of plants on our Facebook wall, along with the name of the plant and where you took the photo. Include images of poison ivy and other familiar culprits, too, because their appearance varies depending on the time of year and climate.
If you come across any of these plants in the wild, stay away. If you find them in your garden, you’ll want to eradicate them. If the infestation is limited you can keep them in check by repeatedly cutting the plants back to at or below ground level. Wear protective clothing to do this. You can also spot treat the plants with an herbicide, such as Burnout.
Whatever you do, don’t use a string trimmer, which will send sap-oozing bits of plant flying — some undoubtedly landing on bare skin.
I still shudder to think of what would have happened if I had used those flowers in the bouquets at my friend’s sunny outdoor wedding. I’m just thankful I saw that newspaper article warning of the dangers of the plant. In the spirit of paying it forward, here’s your warning!