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  Wild parsnip  

Department of Natural Resources

Illinois Exotic Species:
wild parsnip Pastinaca sativa

Wild parsnip is a native of Eurasia. It can survive under almost any conditions and is commonly found in roadsides, pastures and fields. This perennial plant exists as a basal rosette of leaves for at least one year. It often flowers and produces seed during its second year, although it may not flower until later years. The thick taproot of wild parsnip is long, cone-shaped and fleshy. The stem of this plant is light green, hollow and deeply-grooved. An individual parsnip plant may attain a height of five feet. Leaves are alternate, pinnately-compound and branched with saw-toothed edges. Each leaf has five to 15 oval or oblong leaflets. The small, five-petaled, yellow flowers are arranged in broad, umbrellalike clusters at the top of the stems. Flowering occurs from June through September. The blossoms give rise to an oval fruit. Some people are sensitive to the plant and develop a rash if their skin contacts the leaves or sap in the presence of sunlight. A painful rash may develop that, in some people, leaves scars which persist for several months or longer. Wild parsnip is most irritating at the time of flowering. Care should be taken to avoid skin contact by wearing gloves, long sleeves and long pants when near this plant. In Illinois, wild parsnip has become a serious problem in some moist prairies. Well-established prairies are not likely to be invaded by parsnip, although it will grow in prairie edges and disturbed areas within otherwise high-quality prairies. Once established at the edges, parsnip can spread into adjacent high-quality areas. Wild parsnip can be found in every Illinois county.

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