Column: The growing problem of wild parsnip

Wild parsnip is a very common plant that shows up in abandoned yards, waste places, meadows, old fields, roadsides and railway embankments and in Ottawa it's popping up more and more.  In the Ottawa area, it is very common in roadside ditches - particularly in rural areas (though it's creeping into suburban areas and trails a bit more each year).  For one example, this plant is in abundance along Roger Stevens Drive, between Highway 416 and Fourth Line Road.

The flower of Wild Parsnip has some resemblance to Queen Anne's lace, though its flower is yellow instead of white. It may seem pretty, but stay well away from this "flower". Poison Parsnip is a member of the same family of plants as Giant Hogweed and can cause similar injuries.

Touching any part of the plant - or coming into contact with its oil - can lead to phytophotodermatitis and even blindness if the oil gets in your eyes. Sun exposure causes a reaction with the plant's oils that can cause mild to moderate reddening of the skin with burning sensation. More severe cases can even lead to extreme burning and third degree blistering of the skin.

How to avoid getting burned by poison parsnip

The best way to avoid injury from poison parsnip is to stay well away from it. Avoid any and all contact with it, particularly in sunlight. However, if you need to work near it or plan to try and remove it, here are precautions you should take:

  1. Dress in long sleeves, long pants and wear gloves.
  2. If your clothes come into contact with poison parsnip, avoid brushing against them when changing and washing them.
  3. Keep animals, and particularly pets, away from the plant. If they come into contact, do not touch or pet them before thoroughly washing the plant's sap off of them.

Please note: Animals can be burned by the combination of the oil and sunlight - in particular if they have little to no fur/hair. 

If you get poison parsnip sap on your skin:

  1. Cover the area so that it isn't exposed to the sun.
  2. Wash the affected area immediately and thoroughly.
  3. If the area is burning, a cool cloth can be used for relief.
  4. Treat blisters as you would minor burn blisters - avoid puncture and keep clean, dry.
  5. See a doctor for more severe burning and blisters. 
  6. For eye contact, thoroughly rinse your eyes and get to an ER immediately.

Wild parsnip burns can take a few days to heal or several months for more severe cases. Some doctors mistake the burns from this plant for poison ivy. Please share this information with your friends, family and neighbors so more people will know what it is and how to avoid it.

Heritage Gardening Weekend

Now that summer is upon us, please come and celebrate the season at Dickinson House’s Heritage Gardens this weekend, July 13 and 14.  Interpreters from the Rideau Township Historical Society and the Manotick Horticultural Society will be there to interpret the plants.  Everyone is welcome; admission is free.

Treats, Treasures and Open Market

The Kars Recreation Association wants to invite local residents to stop by the RA grounds between 9:00am and 3:00pm on Saturday, July 20 to mingle, browse and purchase art, crafts and homemade edibles from people in your community. Admission and parking are free.  This event coincides with the annual International Dog Show taking place on the Kars RA Grounds from Friday, July 19 until Sunday, July 21.  The Kars RA is located at 1604 Old Wellington Street in the beautiful village of Kars.  For more information, please visit

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please email me at or contact me by phone at 613-580-2491.