Beware of wild parsnips - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Beware of wild parsnips

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - When thinking of parsnips, most think of a garden vegetable, but wild parsnip can be dangerous. In fact, poisonous plants make up 10% of reports to poison centers, mostly in the summer.

The Iowa State Extension finds conditions the last few years have been favorable for weeds in the parsnip family. This time of year, wild parsnips have small yellow flowers. Wild parsnips are in the carrot family. They grow along roads, pastures, and fields.

When plant juice gets on the skin it can cause reddening, rash, and blisters with scalding pain, lasting for several months.

Most of us know the phrase, "leaves of three, let it be." That's for poison ivy. But wild parsnip has no cautionary rhyme to remember it by.

"He're a plant in flower. It's already set seeds," said University of Iowa botanist, Dr. Erin Irish, as she showed us a patch of the weed. Irish says the weed produces a natural pesticide in its roots, leaves and seeds, as a defense against bugs. If the chemical touches skin, it only needs sunlight exposure to leave a lasting mark.

"Big bubbles of itchy and sore tissue," said Irish, recalling a personal encounter with the plant. "Eventually the blisters will subside; they heal, but your skin will be discolored for several weeks, or months."

If there's anybody familiar with the physical effects of wild parsnip, it's area lawn care workers, who've noticed that the pesky plant has become more widespread in recent years.

"I don't know if the climate has something to do with that," said Quality Care operations manager Zach Wendhel. "The past several year's we've had more moisture. I know we have encountered it, because we've removed it on certain times, because it is an invasive species."

Wild parnsip thrives in ditches, along roads, and on the edges of fields. Young plants have several tiers of double leaves. When they mature, pods of tiny yellow flowers and seeds emerge. Irish says it was brought to America by European settlers.

"It's been here for centuries," Irish said, describing how they used it as food. But she added to eat at your own risk.

Irish says if you've brushed against wild parsnip to wash the area with warm water and soap.

The Iowa Poison Center says poison symptoms can be delayed, so if you think you've encountered wild parsnip, do not wait for problems to develop. Call their hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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