Skin burns (phytophotodermatitis)
Wild parsnip is toxic. Do not break plant tissues. Always wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves that protect the skin from contact with the sap of this plant. Be aware that contact can occur indirectly, for example, sap can transfer from unwashed clothing to the skin. If you suspect contact, take these steps:
- Immediately cover the affected skin to prevent sun exposure. Keep skin covered for at least 48 hours.
- Wash skin with soap and water as soon as possible.
- If severe burns develop, promptly seek medical attention.
Wild parsnip sap causes a skin injury called phytophotodermatitis. The name means inflammation (itis) of the skin (derm) induced by a plant (phyto) with the help of sunlight (photo). The injury is caused by furocoumarins, a toxic chemical present in all above-ground parts of the plant during all stages of its development.
The sap chemicals are activated by sunlight and this can happen on overcast as well as sunny days. After contact with sap and exposure to sun, skin reacts in a way that mimics a burn injury. Several hours may pass before one feels pain or other symptoms. Injuries range in severity from redness that is sensitive like a sunburn, to severe blisters. Unlike poison ivy, which causes an allergic reaction in most people, the reaction to wild parsnip is not an allergy. Because of this difference, contact always results in a burn and no one is exempt.
These resources offer additional information about this health hazard:
- Beware of Wild Parsnip by Minnesota Department of Transportation
- Burned by Wild Parsnip by David Eagan. Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, 1999.
- Sun-related Skin Condition Triggered by Chemicals in Certain Plants, Fruits by Shawn Bishop, Mayo Clinic website
Prepare and protect yourself to avoid tick-borne illness.
Due to the current situation with COVID-19, Pesky Plant Trackers offers no in-person events. Please follow the social distancing guidelines for your area before making any observations. We are grateful if you are able to safely observe your plants, but always put the health and safety of yourself and your community first. If you have concerns about Pesky Plant Trackers as it relates to COVID-19, please email program coordinator Abbie Anderson at [email protected]
Land access and permission
Wild parsnip and Japanese knotweed often grow on public domain lands, such as edges of sidewalks, bike paths, and roads. Exercise caution and sound judgement when observing plants on public domain lands. You can also find these plants growing on public lands, such as parks and nature reserves. Follow these guidelines for getting permission to make observations on public lands.
Do not enter others' private property without permission. Safety is one of many reasons to avoid entering private property.