Wild parsnip has made its appearance in Eastern Ontario, introduced from Asia and Europe for its edible root. A tall wildflower or weed with yellow flowers, it can cause severe blistering and burning when the sap within its stalks comes into contact with skin that is exposed to sunlight. As goldenrod is also a tall wildflower with yellow flowers, and very common along roadways in Eastern Ontario, I thought I would compare the two…
Wild parsnip has lobed, sharply toothed leaves, a grooved stalk and yellow flowers that form a flat topped, umbrella-like,seed head…
Goldenrod has elongated, swordlike leaves, a smooth stalk and plumes or spikes of yellow flowers. Once you compare the two, the only thing they have in common is the color of their flowers. Goldenrod is harmless, and growing in a field or along a roadside can be quite beautiful. Some claim it is the cause of their seasonal allergies in late summer, but others claim its leaves and flowers have medicinal properties, even helping to alleviate seasonal allergies.
Armed with the details of what these two plants look like, I searched through our cottage lot for signs of wild parsnip. I did not find any wild parsnip, but did find several clumps of goldenrod…
elongated, swordlike leaves
I have seen clumps of wild parsnip in the vicinity of several gardens I work in though, the largest area is within the Beaverbrook area of Kanata, behind Borduas Court and Carr Crescent, between this residential neighbourhood and the Kanata Lakes Golf Course. This clump of wild parsnip has gone to seed, meaning the flowers have faded to a beige brown color and the seeds are blowing in the wind, spreading through the neighbourhood.
wild parsnip with warning
goldenrod left front, wild parsnip right back
wild parsnip gone to seed
wild parsnip front left, surrounded by shorter, yellower goldenrod
There is a path between the two streets with wild parsnip close to the edge of the path. The plant growth along the path appears to have been mowed recently, but mowing often causes the dangerous sap to leak out of the stalks, especially if a weed wacker or whippersnipper is used. I would hesitate letting my dog or children walk along there!.
If you spot any wild parsnip in your neighbourhood, notify your local authorities, and do not attempt to eradicate large patches of it yourself. To remove one or two plants, you can try to dig up the long taproot, but be sure to wear long pants, sleeves and waterproof gloves. Try not to break the stalk, place it in a black plastic bag, and leave the bag in the hot sun for a week to kill the plant. Remove the gloves last and wash them several times with soapy water. Clothing can be washed in the laundry.
Beware of wild parsnip, but leave the beautiful and harmless goldenrod.