Beware of Poison Parsnip Weeds

Beware of this plant.  It is dangerous.

Hello, fellow camping friends!  Be careful out there enjoying the lovely fields and prairies.  There is a new type of vegetation (to we Iowans) that can hurt you.

It looks pretty enough…  But watch out for this weed.  The sap it contains will cause you a lot of pain and possible scarring.  What is interesting is that nobody is exempt – this is not an allergic reaction like poison ivy or poison oak.  If you come in contact with this plant, you will get burned… but not right away.

So what happened?

This is not me… but
the same type of blistering.

Last Friday and Saturday, I was fishing in very remote areas.  Some of the prairies had weeds that were shoulder high and were difficult to maneuver through.  (And then I wonder where the ticks came from???)  A few of the plants I had to walk through looked exactly like the picture above and it was necessary to use my arm to brush them out of the way.   Sure enough, two days later (as is typical), the arms started to burn and blister.  The “burned” areas are still feeling hot – like a sunburn.

According to what I read, the poison parsnips (aka “wild parsnips”) plant is foreign to the US and has spread here from Asia and Europe.  It causes “phyto-photo-dermatitis”.  When the sap from the plant comes in contact with the skin (such as through broken plant stems), it is absorbed.  In about 24 – 48 hours the sap is activated by the sun’s ultraviolet light, causing painful burns and blisters that look much like other poison plant reactions such as poison ivy.

In retrospect, I should have worn long sleeves or showered ASAP right after exposure.  For now, the best treatment is to keep the blisters covered and prevent them from popping for as long as possible.  That gives the new skin under the sores time to grow, reducing the chances of scarring.  There is a possibility that the skin pigment can be altered to a brownish hue, resulting in long term discoloration.

From Star Trek:  “The Way to Eden”
Pavel Chekov screams after being burned by an acidic plant.

Despite the inconvenience, I had to laugh at the irony of this Star Trek nut receiving plant reaction burns.  There was one particular [original series] Star Trek episode that comes to mind, “The Way to Eden” where a group of hippies took over the Enterprise in a quest to find a planet called Eden – a place to live in nature.  The plant life on Eden turned out to be toxic and burned the visitors, including Chekov.  One has to laugh at the parallels. 

Take care and beware of this plant.  It is nasty stuff and the effect is quite uncomfortable. 

Kind regards…

Bradford the Van Trekker

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

10 Responses to Beware of Poison Parsnip Weeds

  1. tinycamper says:

    Brad, I’ve read that irritation can linger for months before healing on some people. Sure hope you get over yours soon!

    I’m so sorry it happened. But the picture of you in those flowers was sure nice! 🙂

    • Brad says:

      Thanks for the kind words about the picture. 🙂

      The blistering worsened over the day. When I showed it to friends they were grossed out. It will take a while to heal up as you said. I’d still drop everything and go fishing again though! (but in long sleeves this time!)

  2. Dragonfly says:

    Thanks Brad. We have poison hemlock out the wazoo around here as well as the parsnip. I think its parsnip. I will drop by the park rangers office and talk to someone there that can help me identify it better. What I see looks a little like dill so maybe its not poison parsnip. Think I will take a cutting that’s growing in my fence row.

    • Brad says:

      I have to admit to being ignorant on the different plant types around here. Not so any more. 🙂 I am not sure what poison hemlock looks like.

      I can’t feel bad though… I was in the hospital the last couple of days and the doctors (one African, one Indian) were very interested in the poison parsnips plant and both said they were goin to look up more information.

  3. Dragonfly says:

    You have stinging nettle in your area? I’ve got into it before, doesn’t do anything long term but has cause much profanity from me for short term. Where nettle grows, along creek and river banks, jewel weed grows. Its good to put on stings bites and poison ivy and nettle.

    • Brad says:

      Hi, we also have the stinging nettles in this area, too.. There is also lots of that, poison ivy, and poison oak. It’s easy to get messed up by the plant life around here. 🙂

  4. When I hiked up the mountain the other day, I had to hike through some areas with plants covering the trail and over six feet tall. I had to push through them too but had long sleeves. Still I became concerned about what exactly they were, retreated down the trail and within an hour of exposure, I had removed all clothing and washed head to toe, and scrubbed all exposed skin very well. Luckily, I got not reactions. But your advice is good and all should listen to our experiences. I have a pretty serious problem on my hand with just 3-4 skeeter bites.

    • Brad says:

      Hello! I’ve learned to wear a hat when going through those tall weeds. The ticks are everywhere right now (It’s been a moist year). I’ll bet you do the same!

      Changing the clothing and showering ASAP is definitely a good practice. I’m going to start doing that as well. There’s just too many plants and bugs wanting to take a bite out of us!

  5. Hope you’re feeling better Brad 🙂

    • Brad says:

      Thanks! The blisters have popped and the new skin underneath is looking good. Thankfully, there is no scarring! 🙂