Why You Don’t Want to Touch This Plant Here in Minnesota
Spring here in Minnesota is a great time of the year: the weather has warmed up, the trees and lawns are greening up, and we can finally get back outdoors. Just don't touch this plant if you see it while you're out and about here in the 'Land of 10,000 Lakes.'
While it looks fairly harmless, this plant could cause you some serious pain if you happen to touch it, or more specifically, if you come in contact with its sap. It's the wild parsnip, and even though it sounds like something you could order on a salad, here's why you don't want to touch it.
The sap of the wild parsnip, if it's exposed to your skin and your skin is then exposed to the sun, can cause painful blisters and burns. The Minnesota DNR says, "Avoid skin contact with the toxic sap of the plant tissue by wearing gloves, long sleeves and long pants. The sap of wild parsnip in contact with skin in the presence of sunlight can cause a rash and blistering and discoloration of the skin, called phytophotodermatitis."
The DNR also explains that wild parsnip is a non-native species that is now fairly common here in southeast Minnesota. It's often found in prairies and oak openings, but I've noticed it growing various places-- along roads, paths, and in the median of various area highways, including along US Hwy-52 between Rochester and the Twin Cities.
I'm pretty sure I somehow came in contact with some wild parsnip sap a few years ago while my wife and I were out biking the Douglas Trail. I don't remember specifically touching it, but there were 4 or 5 blisters that showed up on the palm of my right hand just after we got back. After doing some more research, I'm guessing the handle bars of my bike must have brushed by the evil plant. I then touched the sap on the handle bars and didn't even know it until the blisters appeared.
Here's a report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (apparently wild parsnip is a problem north of the border, too) that explains more about it-- and what to watch out for.