The Yellow Peril

Wild Parsnips
Wild Parsnips

Two or three years ago the road sides of Rice County Hwy 20 near our house were graced by the lovely orange of the native Indian Paint Brush plants scattered along the ditches in early to midsummer.  This year the scene is far different.  The Indian Paint Brush plants are fewer and harder to spot in a sea of yellow invaders waving in the breeze, and I dare not walk into the area to check things out due to the very real danger of getting a horrible skin rash.  The yellow peril has arrived in full force, and is taking over acres and acres of our countryside, making large areas unsafe for human activity.  Wild parsnip is spreading along miles and miles of our township, county, state and federal roads.

Sadly, little is currently being done to stop the spread of the poisonous wild parsnip along our highways.  The government officials responsible for the highway right of ways are caught in a predicament between people who do not want to herbicides sprayed to control noxious weeds and brush along the roads, people who want no mowing of the roadsides until after the wild parsnips have produced huge quantities of seed, and tight budgets for men, machines and materials.

This year I have noticed a big change in the way the poisonous wild parsnip is spreading.  Previously, the primary means of spreading wild parsnips has been the late summer movement of mowers through tall stands of wild parsnip with seeds hitching a ride on the equipment for a little while and falling off a little further down the road ditch into an uninfected area.  Of course, the seed has also been spread by the winds of fall and winter.  The big difference is that now I’m seeing wild parsnips spreading into private lands and wild lands.

Imagine a beautiful country acreage that has been a place to walk and play, and a place to enjoy wildlife and country breezes and native plants.  Now imagine that same lovely meadow heavily infested with wild parsnip to the extent that it is no longer safe to walk through the area due to the danger of getting skin rashes worse than that of poison ivy.  It is starting to happen.

Just yesterday I noticed a heavily infested pasture and in another area the wild parsnips have spread into a meadow of mixed grasses and scattered brush.  Your land may be next; particularly if your land is next to a road where wild parsnips are spreading like wildfire.  To protect you and your land, you may want to ask your local unit of government to eradicate the wild parsnip growing in the road ditches.  So far, most highway departments have done little to eradicate wild parsnips in the road ditches for fear of criticism were they to herbicide spray as a control measure.

Now the same highway department will receive criticism for not preventing, and unwittingly spreading the yellow peril.  These public servants are caught in the middle, and the resulting inaction is having disastrous results.

While I am not an expert on this subject, I do have a strong hunch that the best solution will be the unpopular option of spraying herbicides on wild parsnips repeatedly over a period of years, and combined with mowing at a time when the mowing will make re=growing wild parsnips vulnerable to herbicide spray.

It will be interesting to see what control measures prove to be the best.  The one thing I’m certain of is that doing little or nothing will produce a terrible outcome with millions of acres at risk of becoming unsafe for human activity.  Join me in urging your township, city, county and state officials to take decisive action to eliminate the yellow peril.