City of Ottawa doubles down to weed out wild parsnip

The City of Ottawa is doubling spending to fight wild parsnip this year, as it tries to keep the invasive weed from spreading further.

Herbicide to be used in battle against noxious plant

Wild parsnip has a sap that can burn skin and even blind people. (CBC)

The City of Ottawa is doubling the money it's spending to fight wild parsnip this year, as it tries to keep the invasive weed from spreading further.

In 2015 — the same year Ontario officially labelled wild parsnip a noxious weed — the city embarked on a pilot project to map the plant's spread, and try to contain it by mowing and spraying herbicides.

Wild parsnip has become a big concern because the plant's toxic sap can cause skin rashes. The weed also wipes out other species, including pollinators that attract bees.

The infestation in Ottawa is growing, according to a report to the city's agriculture and rural affairs committee.

"We aren't ever going to eradicate the plant in its entirety," said Laila Gibbons, the city's manager of parks, building and ground services. "What we're trying to is help stop the spread of the plant across the city."

Budget nearly doubled

The 2016 city budget allots $198,000 to continue developing a plan to do that, up from $100,000 in 2015.

Research last year found mowing alone did not prevent wild parsnip from spreading, and staff now believe a herbicide will give the best results when sprayed in mid- to late-May.

"The thing about mowing is we only have a good two- or three-week span as to when we have to hit this plant," said Coun. Scott Moffatt, who chairs the committee.  

"It's massive geography and you have to mow every single ditch within a two- to three-week period. It's unmanageable. It's not about cost." 

This year, the city will begin spraying the herbicide Clearview in May. 

'Ground zero'

Property owners, such as organic gardeners, are allowed to opt out if their land abuts city land that's earmarked for spraying.

Moffatt — who calls his own ward "ground zero" for wild parsnip — said residents in rural areas are adept at dealing with the weed on their own property.

"As long as we take care of our end of the bargain, that will reduce the need for any private citizen to do it on their own property," said Moffatt.

The city is also pledging to work cooperatively with Gatineau, the National Capital Commission and neighbouring counties, all grappling with the problem of wild parsnip.