Wild Parsnip is everywhere! Roadsides and fence rows are buried in the stuff. Some hiking trails at Devil’s lake State Park are lined with it and, as you can see in the picture above from the Steinke Basin trail, you even need to be careful where you sit! It’s out of control.
Be very wary. If you get into wild parsnip you can suffer anything from a rash similar to poison ivy to something akin to 3rd degree burns.* I’ve been there. Many years ago when I got into the stuff, a large section of my arm bubbled and blistered and turned black. It took years for the scars to fade. In fact, your skin can remain sensitive to sunlight for up to 3 years after contact.
The wild parsnip has been especially bad this year. There have been a couple of news articles making their rounds recently including one in the local paper. Why is it so bad? Well, in doing a bit of research we can see that nature is fickle and some years are worse than others. That said, it has spread fast and changes in the way we’re managing our environment are probably a major culprit. According to an July 1, 2001 article by the UW Extension office, nature plays it’s part of course but we’re not helping;
“There is no doubt that the delay in mowing roadsides until mid summer as an official roadside management policy of the state opens the door for this plant to complete its life cycle and produce ripe seeds well before any mowing is done.”
The article also says,
“when roadsides and pastures are mowed in late July and August, parsnip seeds probably move as hitchhikers on the mowers. Mowing also creates a much more favorable environment for parsnip seeds to germinate than if the sites were left undisturbed.”
There’s no question that Wild Parsnip is spreading and the risk to hikers, cyclists, farm animals and even your pets is increasing. We’re certainly going to have to reexamine how we manage our hiking trails and roadsides. Until then however, you just need to be super aware out there..
Oh yes, and watch where you sit!