Earlier this summer, people across the country received unsolicited packets of seeds in the mail from China. I first saw it on Facebook, but we all know that everything on that social media site is absolutely the truth. But then I saw it on the evening news. The New York Times reported the shipments on July 29, 2020, and asked people not to plant the seeds and send them to the DEC or the United State Department of Agriculture for testing.
Most of those seeds turned out to be mustard, vegetables and herbs. But why were they randomly sent to thousands of people? One possible explanation offered was that it was part of a bizarre marketing plan to spread awareness by shipping a cheap product. But what if they were an invasive species?
One such troublesome species is poison parsnip. I have a friend who has horses. Those beautiful animals came in contact with it on the edges of their pasture and lost most of their hair on their necks. It wasn’t in that infamous seed packet, but it’s along every road and highway in the area. When it first started to be a problem, I was told that in came in on the salt trucks that delivered to the state, county and local highway departments. That sounded a little fishy to me, but what do I know?
A few weeks ago, I was brush hogging out behind our old dairy barn. I knew the parsnip was there - I’ve mowed it off several times and never had a problem, but that day it was hot, and I was mowing without a shirt. Maybe the wind was wrong, but the next day I had little red spots on my arms and back. They turned to blisters the following day, and that’s when the itching and burning began. I tried all the common lotions and salves, but ended up at the doctor's the next day.
My neighbor was weed-whacking and cut off some parsnip not knowing what it was. He too wasn’t wearing a shirt. Joe had massive blisters over his belly and forearms and even had to take off from work.
Poison parsnip is related to Queen Ann’s lace, which is common around here but has a relative that is far, far worse. Giant hogweed is truly a menace and very detrimental to your health and well-being. The DEC has asked everyone to report any sightings. I took a shortcut one day last year, going across Flat Iron Road between Mt. Upton and Gilbertsville's River Road. The DEC was removing several hogweed plants along the Butternut Creek. Several DEC workers dressed in white HAZMAT suits and protective face masks were working just a ways up from the bridge. The sap from hogweed causes massive blisters and can even cause blindness.
Giant hogweed can grow up to 14 feet in height. Its stalk ranges from two to four inches in diameter. The leaves can grow up to five feet across and the flowers can span more than two feet. If you get the sap on you, it reacts to sunlight. The rest will be a very painful memory. It will cause years of scarring and could react again when exposed to the sun. If you find it, do not cut it down. That just creates more of a problem. Call the DEC immediately.
So, let’s get back to those little seed packets. Many of you might have read the story about Jack who took the family cow and traded it for a handful of magic beans. Remember how that turned out? Be careful what you plant in your back yard.