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Home > Plants, Pests & Pest Control > Pest Management > Noxious & Invasive Weed Program > Weed of the Month > May 2015 - Wild Parsnip

May Weed of the Month: Wild Parsnip

A path cuts through a large wild parsnip infestationMay’s Weed of the Month, wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), is a toxic plant with an edible root. Native to Eurasia, it escaped cultivation and is commonly found throughout Minnesota and North America.

Wild parsnip is a member of the carrot family. It produces a sap that can cause blistering, swelling, and discoloration of the skin when in the presence of sunlight. Protective clothing should be worn when working with this plant. Animals, including livestock, can also be burned by the sap in combination with sunlight.

Wild parsnip is a biennial that germinates from seed and spends one or more years as a rosette. Once it has enough resources stored, it sends up a flowering stalk, sets seed, and dies. It blooms from June to July, and the yellow flowers are large and flat-topped. Each leaf has multiple leaflets with saw-toothed edges. The plant forms a long, thick taproot that can make removal by hand pulling a challenge.

It is most commonly found in disturbed areas such as roadsides, trails, pastures, and gravel pits. Wild parsnip is highly invasive and can spread rapidly to replace native animal and plant habitat. It produces abundant seed which can stay viable in the soil for four years.

As a prohibited noxious weed on the control list, landowners must attempt to control the spread of wild parsnip seed. To manage wild parsnip, infestations need to be monitored and treated until the seedbanks are depleted.

  • Clean all boots, clothing, and equipment to avoid spreading the seed.
  • Small populations can be hand pulled. Wear protective gloves and clothing.
  • Mowing prior to flowering in June will significantly reduce but not eliminate seed production. Equipment should be washed after mowing to prevent spreading the plant.
  • Herbicide may be an option. When considering the use of chemical treatment, check with your local University of Minnesota Extension agent, co-op, or certified landscape care expert for assistance and recommendations.