Poisonous weed thick in region this summer

One particular plant may be enjoying summer more than any other, but no one is enjoying it.

It’s wild parsnip, and some officials are saying 2012 is one of the worst years they’ve ever seen the invasive, Eurasian species spread throughout Minnesota. Worse, the noxious plant — as defined by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture — doesn’t just overtake ditches and disrupt grasslands. Its sap destroys skin days after contact, and causes a chemical burn when activated with sunlight.

“It’s pretty nasty this year,” said Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson. “I think it has probably gotten worse this year

Wild parsnip is widespread through southeastern Minnesota this summer. Mower County emplyees have sprayed twice the amount of herbacide as usual to control it.

than any time recently that we’ve seen it.”

Hanson said county employees have sprayed twice the amount of herbicide as usual on the 4-foot-tall, golden, flowering plant that looks similar to golden alexander. He and others suspect an early spring and unusually dry weather have allowed wild parsnip to flourish. It is easily seen in ditches and open, grassy areas that get plenty of sunlight.

 

Some have also seen wild parsnip on bike trails around Austin. Though Austin Parks and Recreation employees have cut some of the plant along trails this year, wild parsnip spread faster than they could keep up this year.

The MDA has noxious plant guidelines for many species in Minnesota, under which wild parsnip is designated “controlled.” According to the law, landowners are supposed to take measures to prevent the spread of the plant, such as hand pulling, cutting the plant below the root crown before it seeds or removing the base of the flowering stem.

“Obviously, you want to be wearing some good protective gear for that,” said Ed Quinn, Department of Natural Resources resource management consultant.

However, now that the plant is seeding, mowing will only spread the seeds, Quinn added. Controlled burning also seems to ineffective, unless herbicides are coupled with the process.

And like most other invasives, wild parsnip cannot be stopped. It can only be contained.

“We’re not trying to eradicate it,” Quinn said about the plant that was first documented in Minnesota in 1878, according to the DNR. “We’re not going to get rid of it in Minnesota. But what we are trying to do is manage the spread.”

For more information about wild parsnip, its effects, state regulations and how to control it, visit mda.state.mn.us/plants or dnr.state.mn.us/invasives.

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