Posts Tagged ‘dangerous plants’

Watch Out for Wild Parsnip

Invasive plants and animals are typically only a threat to other plants and animals, but occasionally they can be a danger to us as well.

While giant hogweed is on the watch list in Michigan as a new invasive species, wild parsnip is becoming more common, especially in the northern parts of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

And while it’s looks similar to other members of the wild carrot family, this is one plant you definitely don’t want to mess with. Contact with its juices can cause rashes, blisters, and burns. The skin discoloration can last for years.

The article below has more details about wild parsnip. You can also get good identification information here.

Watch Out for Wild Parsnip

Originally published: July 19, 2016

U.S. Forest Service, Hiawatha National Forest

Flowering Yellow umbel of Wild ParsnipGladstone, MI — Wild Parsnip, also known as Pastinaca sativa, is an herbaceous perennial with yellow-flowered umbels atop 3- to 5-foot tall stems.  While it may be pretty to look at, people who touch the plant soon discover its less appealing trait:  When the juices of the Wild Parsnip plant touch your skin and are exposed to ultra-violet light, they cause serious rashes, burns and blisters called “phytophotodermatitis.” The resulting skin discoloration can last several months. If you come in contact with Wild Parsnip and notice development of burns, cover the affected area with a cool, wet cloth and seek medical attention.

Wild Parsnip’s toxic compounds (called furanocoumarins) are found in the juices of its leaves, stems, flowers, and even fruits. Phytophotodermatitis will usually appear within 24 to 48 hours and is painful.  In many cases, the blisters will lead to brownish pigmentation that can last for years.

According to Hiawatha National Forest’s East Zone Botanist, Stephanie Blumer, this invasive plant has become increasingly common across the Upper Peninsula.

“The key for outdoors enthusiasts,” she said, “is to learn to recognize this plant so that when you see it, you can avoid it.”

How can you recognize Wild Parsnip?  While it looks similar to several other carrot family plants, the flowers of Wild Parsnip are yellow and the stem is smooth and green with very few hairs. Its leaves are long, saw toothed, pinnately compound and form a basal rosette during the first year. The leaves are further divided into leaflets that grow across from each other along the stem, with 2 to 5 pairs of opposite leaflets. In its second year from June until mid-July, and sometimes even through late summer, the plant flowers. Its flowers are small and yellow with five petals and there are hundreds per plant. The flowers are arranged in 2-6 inch wide umbels at the tops of stems and branches, and there are usually no bracts, and very small or non-existent sepals at the base of the flowers.

“As Wild Parsnip spreads, more people are coming into contact with it,”” said Deb LeBlanc, West Zone Plant Ecologist for the Hiawatha. She added that individuals who will be working, hiking, or involved in other activities around the plant can reduce the risk of exposure by wearing long-sleeved shirts, gloves, and long pants.

What are your chances of encountering Wild Parsnip?  While it originates from Eurasia, Wild Parsnip has become a common invasive plant in U.P roadsides, ditches, and other disturbed open areas.  Believed to have been introduced to North America by early European settlers who grew it as a tap root; the wild populations are thought to be a result of escaped cultivated plants. Wild Parsnip is a plant that inhabits various growing conditions such as dry, moist, and even wet-mesic prairies, oak-openings, and calcareous fens.

Once it invades open ranges, it begins to take over in waves and spreads rapidly, especially in disturbed areas. This invasive plant is spread through the distribution of its seeds that are carried by the wind, vehicles, equipment, and water. The seeds themselves, are typically large, slightly yellow, ribbed, flat, and round. It is around September through November that the plant will produce its seed and being a monocarpic perennial, once the plant seeds, it will die. However, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to four years, thus adding to the difficulties of eradicating the plants existence.

“Wild parsnip has been designated as a State Noxious weed in approximately 35 states. “Besides the obvious health risk, the plant is problematic due to its ecologically invasive habit,”” said LeBlanc.

For further information on Wild Parsnip contact your local Forest Service botanist at 906-387-2512 extension 20 or 906-643-7900.


This Tree Comes With a Warning Label

To make your Thursday a bit more interesting, here is an interesting fact you probably weren’t even aware of.  I know I wasn’t!


When it comes to defence, the animal kingdom has come up with a wide assortment of horns, spikes, spines, claws, enhanced super senses, and camouflage and mimicry abilities that make the animal nearly invisible.  And that’s only naming a few.  Not to mention, that if all else fails, that animal has the option of running away.  That is the advantage of being mobile.

But what if you are a plant?

Plants don’t have the luxury of being able to move around after they’re established.  They’re pretty much grounded where they are.  So how does something that can’t get away from an attack defend itself?  Chemically of course.  The plant world has its own sets of biochemical weapons at its disposal.  Being eaten by an unwelcome insect?  Attract another that will prey on the pest.  Become infected by a disease?  Well, while it may be too late for you, you can warn your fellow plants by sending chemical signals that will aid them in building up their defences.  And animal predation problems?  Build up toxins and other nasty tasting compounds in your vulnerable leaves and twigs that will make you unappetizing and even make the ingester sick.

One plant has taken these chemical weapons to the extreme, earning it the distinction of being the Guinness World Record holder for “The Most Dangerous Tree.”  This tree’s toxic defences are strong enough that even humans are at serious risk; to the point where countries where this species is found have taken to giving them warning labels.

The tree is the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico native the manchineel.


It looks like a beautiful flowering apple tree, but don’t be fooled.  The sap contains a variety of strong toxins that can cause blisters when in contact with the skin.  Even standing beneath it during a rain can cause a reaction.  If you mistakenly burn the wood, the smoke can cause blindness.  And if that weren’t enough, if the sweet, apple-like fruit is eaten it can cause the mouth and esophagus to blister, gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and can potentially even be fatal.  Historical accounts say that after encountering this plant, Christopher Columbus dubbed it the “death apple.”


That’s a whole lot of damage from one plant.  While an extreme example, it can serve as a cautionary tale:  Always beware of eating unfamiliar plants!