The poisonous and invasive weed, wild parsnip, has been recorded in Saskatchewan since the 1920s, but reports of issues with the plant are currently in the spotlight.
The Saskatchewan Invasive Species Council (SISC) said reports of wild parsnip are on the rise across the province
“For some of these invasive plants you’ll get this lag phase where it’s here and it kind of doesn’t do a whole lot and then it starts to ramp up and really just go rampant everywhere and that was kind of the story with wild parsnip,” said Chet Neufeld, vice president of the SISC, in an interview with 650 CKOM.
Symptoms and prevention
Neufeld described the particular effects of wild parsnip sap which increases sensitivity to UV rays, causing severe sunburns with blistering, seeping rashes and potential blindness if the sap gets in your eyes.
“The insidious thing about is that, unlike stinging nettle where you get the burn right away and you know you’ve touched stinging nettle, this doesn’t hurt right away. It kind of sits on your skin just making it more sensitive so that’s how people the next day find out they’ve got all of this damage to their skin.”
People who do notice they have come into contact with wild parsnip are advised to immediately wash off the sap and try to reduce their exposure to the sun because that is what causes the burns.
No reports of animals affected
Doctor Lesly Sawa is a veterinarian with the Animal Clinic of Regina. She said, in general, it would be very rare to see a dog suffer blisters or burns from wild parsnip because their skin is protected by fur coats.
“It’s pretty rare for anything to happen to them from it. They could get some irritation to their eyes but it’s really not something that we see too often, or at all. I mean I’ve never seen it in 27 years,” she commented.
Since wild parsnip typically grows in fields or around sloughs, there is more concern for grazing livestock coming in contact with the weed, particularly if they eat it.
Ingesting wild parsnip can cause photosensitivity and even photophobia or fear of the sun in grazing animals. Sawa said people could watch out for blistering or redness of the skin and irritation to the eyes.
While there is always a concern it could happen, Sawa said among her friends who are large animal veterinarians, there are no cases of animals being affected by wild parsnip in Saskatchewan.
Controlling the spread of the weed
Clark Brenzil is a weed specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture and said wild parsnip is slightly on the rise with concentrations of the weed increasing due to wet conditions over the past decade.
“It would be in more locations than it was in, but we do have weed inspectors that are undertaking active weed control operations on the weed as well and so that is scaling back some of those other populations,” Brenzil said in a phone interview with 980 CJME.
Controlling wild parsnip and other plants classified as invasive species is under municipal jurisdiction, so people who see it are encouraged to report it to the local rural municipality which has the authority to enforce control or notify the appropriate agency.
Certain industrial or agricultural grade herbicides will kill the weed, but most domestic grade herbicides will not. Brenzil said another good way to control the spread is to simply mow down the weed before it grows to the point of flowering and spreading seeds.
Tracking the spread — there’s an app for that
While the government does not track invasive species specifically, Brenzil said the ministry does provide training to weed inspectors employed by municipalities to recognize wild parsnip plants.
“The easy way is that it looks like a dill plant, but instead of the fine ferny leaves, it has broader leaves on it,” Brenzil described. “It’ll still be a leaf that has multiple leaflets, but those leaflets are a good size, they’re about an inch across and about a couple inches long.”
The province is aware of heavy concentrations of the invasive yellow-flowered weed in scattered in areas around the province including north of Saskatoon in the triangle between Saskatoon, Rosthern and Laird.
“There’s a stretch that’s along a creek that runs along parallel to Highway 48 where there’s a fairly high density of it,” Brenzil said. “There’s also a fairly high density of it to the west of North Battleford running along Highway 40.”
People who see wild parsnip can also download an app called IMapInvasives which will record photos and pinpoint map locations to track all kinds of invasive plant species.