Wild parsnip EC 2017-07-03 010
Local News

Toxic weed alert! Wild parsnip sighted in H-F area

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a highly toxic weed that is spreading rapidly through Illinois and has now been spotted in Homewood. Local gardener Kate Duff offers advice about identifying and safely removing the plant.

  A wild parsnip discovered 
  in the 18000 block of 
  Homewood Avenue in 
(Photos by 
  Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a highly toxic weed that is spreading rapidly through Illinois and has now been spotted in Homewood. 

Because it looks like a wildflower, you may be tempted to leave it in your garden or use it as a cut flower. But the plant is dangerous to both people and animals because of its ability to cause serious skin damage.

The oils in the stalk contain a chemical called psoralen which reacts with the skin in the presence of sunlight, causing a chemical burn. People who are exposed develop an itchy, painful, blistering rash. The rash is slow to heal and may result in dark scars that can last for months or years.
Wild parsnip is related to Queen Anne’s Lace, parsley and carrots. Like those species, it is a leafy, branching plant with hundreds of tiny flowers organized in umbrella-shaped clusters called umbels at the top of each stem.

  The stalk of the wild 
  parsnip has distinctive 


To distinguish wild parsnip from similar plants, look first at the stalk: it has vertical grooves that are characteristic of this plant. The leaves are long with two rows of ragged-edged leaflets on either side of a central stalk, and the flowers are yellow. The plant itself can grow up to 5 feet tall.

Like many noxious weeds, wild parsnip is an introduced species. Native to Europe and Asia, it was brought to North America as a vegetable garden plant, grown for its edible root, but then it escaped cultivation. Without natural predators to check its spread, wild parsnip is able to colonize quickly, outcompeting native species.

  The most dangerous 
  part of the wild parsnip 
  is the sap from the stalk. 


Horticulturalists are unclear why wild parsnip has been spreading more rapidly in recent years. Some scientists suspect climate change is a contributing factor.

  Local gardener Kate Duff
  fights back Monday
  against an incursion of
  wild parsnip in an alley
  a block north of Ridge
  Road in Homewood.

By removing the plant promptly and safely from your property, you will help check its spread through the H-F area.

  Duff stands next to 
  a wild parsnip to show how
  tall the plant can grow. 
  The homemade hazmat 
  outfit she is wearing was
  mainly for dramatic effect,
  she said, but gloves and
  caution when handling the
  toxic plant are highly 


To remove wild parsnip safely, follow these steps:

  • Cover skin with long pants, sleeves, rubber gloves and closed shoes. You may also want to use safety glasses to prevent eye contact and a dust mask to prevent inhalation.
  • Cut the plant at the soil line with pruners and dig out the root. Keep the stalk as intact as possible to avoid releasing the oils. Do not use weed wackers as they can cause the sap to spray.
  • Securely bag the plant remains and dispose of in household waste containers, not yard waste containers or your composter. Never burn the plant remains, because this can release the oils into the air.
  • If any sap gets on the skin, cover the area immediately until you get inside, then wash with soap and warm water or rubbing alcohol, and cover the skin again for at least 8 hours to prevent sun exposure. If a rash appears, contact your doctor.

News by email

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Free weekly newsletter

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Most read stories this week