Alternate common names:
- Common parsnip
Alternate scientific names:
- Elaphoboscum sativum
- Pastinaca fleischmannii
- Pastinaca sativa sylvestris
- Pastinaca sylvestris
- Peucedanum pastinaca
- Peucedanum sativum
General: Wild Parsnip is a stout, aromatic biennial or short-lived perennial.
Flowers: Are yellow and grouped in compound umbels (umbrella-shaped clusters), with 15-25 unequal spokes per umbel.
Stem: Are erect, up to 2 m tall.
Leaves: Are alternate, pinnately-compound, branched and have saw-toothed edges. Each leaf is composed of 5-15 mitten-shaped, toothed leaflets. Basal leaves are up to 40 cm long and 20 cm wide; the size of the leaves decreases up the stems. Leaves can be smooth or hairy.
Fruits: Are elliptic, about 5 mm long, flat and hairy.
Roots: Wild Parsnip has a thick, long, yellow-brown taproot.
Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which is much taller than Wild Parsnip.
You can learn more about how to tell members of the carrot family apart here.
Habitat and Origin
Wild Parsnip was introduced from Europe as a root crop. Worth noting is that Wild Parsnip is extremely similar to cultivated parsnip varieties, and they are considered part of the same plant species.
Wild Parsnip can tolerate a variety of soil types, from heavy clay to sandy loam. It thrives in partial to full sun, but it does not tolerate shade. Wild Parsnip is usually found in abandoned fields and meadows as well as on roadsides, railways and trails.
Propagation & Vectors of Spread
Wild Parsnip reproduces by seed. One plant produces about 2,000 fruits in a season, and the seeds remain viable in the soil for 3 – 4 years. Wild Parsnip is considered a biennial or monocarpic perennial: it spends one or more years as a basal rosette before flowering, setting seed and dying.
Wild Parsnip also reproduces vegetatively via rhizomes.
Wild Parsnip seeds get dispersed short distances by wind and water. Longer-distance spread can be caused by accidental hay or straw contamination; landscaping, farming and soil movement activities; or accidental escape from agricultural fields and vegetable gardens.
Ecological and Economic Impacts
Wild Parsnip is toxic and can cause skin blisters. It is best to seek the help of a professional to control it.
- Outcompetes native species, reducing biodiversity.
- Skin contact with leaves or stems can cause photosensitivity (photodermatitis), resulting in severe blistering when exposed to sunlight.
- Reduces the quality and saleability of agricultural crops like hay, oats, and alfalfa.
- Leaves and stems are toxic to livestock.
What Can I Do?
Wild Parsnip is currently found in small amounts in the Sea to Sky Corridor, so the best approach to controlling its spread is by PREVENTION.
Learn to identify Wild Parsnip: use the images presented in this profile page to learn how to identify Wild Parsnip
What to do if you spot it: You can report any Wild Parsnip sighting by clicking here.
- Regularly monitor properties for weed infestations.
- Ensure soil and gravel are uncontaminated before transport.
- Ensure that plants are disposed of in a garbage bag if found in floral arrangements to prevent seeds from spreading.
- Unload, park or store equipment or vehicles in infested areas; remove plant material from any equipment, vehicles or clothing used in such areas and wash equipment and vehicles at designated cleaning sites before leaving infested areas.
- Plant Wild Parsnip in a garden, no matter how well-contained its enclosure may seem.
- Move soil that has been contaminated with Wild Parsnip.
Always wear full Personal Protective Equipment when treating Wild Parsnip to protect yourself from the toxic sap. Small infestations can be hand-pulled (ensure you remove the roots). Mowing before flowering can prevent seed production but re-sprouting is likely. Larger infestations (where digging up is not feasible) can be mowed and subsequently covered with tarps.
Burning does not control Wild Parsnip populations directly, but periodic burning can encourage the growth of native fire-tolerant species which may outcompete Wild Parsnip over time. However, caution must be taken if burning an area containing Wild Parsnip, as burning can release sap into the air, potentially causing severe reactions to people downwind.
Metsulfuron-methyl/aminopyralid, 2,4-D, and chlorsulfuron/aminocyclopyrachlor are effective on Wild Parsnip. We recommend that any herbicide application is carried out by a person holding a valid BC Pesticide Applicator Certificate.
Before selecting and applying herbicides, you must review and follow herbicide labels and application rates; municipal, regional, provincial and federal laws and regulations; species-specific treatment recommendations, and site-specific goals and objectives.
There are many species that will feed on Wild Parsnip, but most do not cause enough damage to the plant to provide control.
- E-Flora BC, Pastinaca sativa, http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Pastinaca%20sativa
- Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Wild Parsnip, https://www.mda.state.mn.us/plants/pestmanagement/weedcontrol/noxiouslist/wildparsnip
- Nature Conservancy Canada, Wild Parsnip, http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/what-we-do/resource-centre/invasive-species/wild-parsnip.html
- Ontario Invasive Plant Council, Wild Parsnip Best Management Practices in Ontario, https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/OIPC_BMP_WildParsnip_Feb182014_FINAL2.pdf
- Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program, Wild Parsnip, http://www.invadingspecies.com/wild-parsnip/
- Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium, Wild Parsnip, https://sewisc.org/invasives/invasive-plants/72-wild-parsnip