Wild parsnip, aka poison parsnip - a weed to avoid

According to Weedinfo.ca, 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):

Flewellyn Road, just east of Shea Rd. The yellow flowered plant is Wild Parsnip (a.k.a., Poison Parsnip).The flower of Wild Parsnip has some resemblance to Queen Anne's lace, though it's 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.

If you'd like to learn more, here is some additional reading: