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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