Saskatoon

Don't get burned: Here's how to identify toxic wild parsnip

Wild parsnip is an invasive species with toxic sap that can cause skin to burn horribly when exposed to sunlight. If you don't know how to recognize it, you could be in for a nasty surprise.

Wild parsnip closely resembles other common, non-toxic plants but has distinctive leaves

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

This article was originally published on July 21, 2018.

Wild parsnip is an invasive species with toxic sap that can cause skin to burn horribly when exposed to sunlight.

If you don't know how to recognize it, you could be in for a nasty surprise, as Regina man Mark Wilson discovered.

Wild parsnip leaves are twice as long as they are wide, broad, with teeth on the edge. One leaf will be divided into several leaflets. (Victor M. Vicente Selvas/Wikimedia Commons)

Because wild parsnip closely resembles other common, non-toxic plants like dill, tansy and Golden Alexander, the best way to recognize it is by its leaves.

All of the aforementioned plants have numerous stems with little yellow flowers but the wild parsnip's leaves are distinctive.

Wild parsnip leaves are broad, twice as long as they are wide and teeth on the edge. The leaves are lower down on the plant.

Dill has long, narrow, feathery leaves, while tansy and Golden Alexander tend to be shorter. Both dill and wild parsnip grow to about one and a half metres in height.

The colour of the flower is slightly different as well, said Beryl Wait, the Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre invasive species co-ordinator.

"Dill would probably be more diffuse and slightly yellow or green colour versus the wild parsnip which would be more of a yellow colour and the flowers a little bigger and prominent," she said.

Edible root, poisonous sap

Wait said the wild parsnip is a root crop that people used to harvest for the root. It's a relative of parsnip, in the carrot family.

The sap causes a chemical reaction on skin when exposed to the sun, resulting in weeping blisters and burns.

Wait said it's best to avoid getting it on your skin in the first place by recognizing the plant or wearing long pants and shoes. If it does get on your skin, though, don't expose it to direct sunlight.

"If you do encounter it, go into the shade or go into the house and wash off prior to exposing it to sunlight and instigating it to a chemical reaction," Wait said.

Record and report

If you think you recognize it, take a good picture of it and send it to the Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre or the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, or use the iNaturalist mobile application to identify it.

"If it is wild parsnip, we want it to be reported… so it can be controlled," Wait said.

There are hotspots around Ness Creek, Kipling, Weyburn, and along Highway 11 between Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

The Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre also has an invasive species public map that shows where it has been reported. Choose "Wild Parsnip" from the "Common Name" dropdown menu and you can see the affected areas.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Courtney Markewich

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