The Scourge of Wild Parsnips

Wild Parsnips
Wild Parsnips
Wild Parsnips
Wild Parsnips
Wild Parsnips
Wild Parsnips

You can help slowdown a silent epidemic that is rapidly spreading along Minnesota roadways, and threatening to invade private properties.  Wild Parsnip is spreading at an alarming rate along roadways all though Southeast Minnesota, and is extremely toxic to human skin, causing blisters and skin rashes that can be worse than those caused by Poison Ivy when exposed skin touches the wild parsnips, or comes in contact with the particles of wild parsnips created when the weed is mowed.  See article produced by the Minnesota DOT .

The three photos here were all taken this morning – 6-17-16, along County Road 20 in Bridgewater Township.  You can tell how this toxic weed is spreading rampantly up and down the ditch.

Spraying Wild Parsnips with broadleaf herbicide to kill them before seeds can fully develop may help slow down the spread of this toxic weed.  This may be the best control measure rather than mowing.

Mowing the Wild Parsnip when they are lush and juicy can be dangerous for the person mowing.  Mowing after the seed heads mature actually spreads the weed to new areas.  On both counts, mowing appears to be counter productive.

One of the reasons Wild Parsnips are spreading so quickly is that most units of government mow roadside ditches after wild birds are done nesting.  This is also after the seeds of Wild Parsnips are fully mature.  As mowers move through the dried up Wild Parsnips, seeds lodge on the top of mower decks, only to fall off a while later as the mowers shimmer and shake their way over the rough terrain of the ditch.  It’s happening on State, Federal, County, Municipal and Township roads, and the yellow seed heads that resemble dill seed heads in shape are easy to spot right now.

Beside the yellow Wild Parsnips, I’ve heard there is a variety that is greener, taller and has a white blossom.  I need to learn more about this one, and will share what I learn over the next year about control measures.

One of the best things you can do is to talk to your elected officials and the folks responsible for maintaining our roadways.  Ask them to implement a control and eradication program to protect our lands and our people from this toxic plant.  Right now the highway departments are inadvertently spreading Wild Parsnips rather than eliminating them.  We need to encourage them to find good solutions to keep from spreading Wild Parsnips and other invasive plants.

It is very important to protect birds nesting in the road ditches.  Mowing road ditches earlier in the summer will kill LOTS of birds, so this is not a good option.  Unfortunately, spraying noxious weeds like Wild Parsnips, thistle, and  leafy spurge with herbicide may be a better and less environmentally destructive control measure than early mowing.  This is going to be a difficult balancing act and a subject of discussion and research.  I’m eager to see what control measures turn out to be the best.

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