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Local News

August 22, 2013

Agency warns of wild parsnip health risks


Area residents are advised to be on the lookout for wild parsnip, a flowering plant that can cause severe poison ivy-like blistering and burning on contact, according to a media release from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County. 

According to the release, Pastinaca sativa, or wild parsnip, is a “vigorous weed” seen growing in many places in Chenango County. The plant can grow up to five feet tall, with a flat-topped cluster of tiny yellow flowers, somewhat similar to Queen Anne’s lace. The plant grows commonly on roadsides, in waste areas where the soil has been disturbed, and in other spots where full sunlight is available. 

When the plant’s oils or juices combine with sunlight on the skin, the result can be painful blisters that can last up to six weeks, and can cause scarring. Unlike poison ivy, which only affects people with a sensitivity, this plant can cause a reaction in almost anyone once the affected area is exposed to the sun. 

The plant is a biennial, meaning it flowers only every other year. When young, the plant has reddish stems and grows only a few inches off the ground. During its second year, the plant sends up a tall, flowering shoot. 

Area residents may send samples of suspected wild parsnip to the Master Gardener Volunteer hot line for identification and removal advice. Photographs or live samples can be submitted, or callers may leave a message with a detailed description of the plant. Gardeners are advised to use thick gloves when touching the plant, or to wash hands gently with soap immediately after handling it. 

For information or assistance with identification, call 334-5841, ext. 13; email; or visit the Master Gardener volunteer desk at 99 North Broad St. in Norwich.

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