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NATURE’S TURN: Beware roadside wild parsnip, be dazzled by parsnip in the garden

Researching the carrot family, I discovered yellow flowering wild parsnip, a plant that is reported to be as hazardous as poison ivy. Upon close examination of a 6-feet-tall individual, it was clear that I had, in fact, come upon wild parsnip.

July 16 – 29, 2018

Mount Washington — A swath of yellow flowering plants along the Egremont Road between Route 41 and Jug End Road aroused my curiosity. Like many roadside botanical spectacles, this one could have been a passing flirtation, except for a confluence of events.

Last year in early spring, I discovered a sprouted parsnip growing in my garden at the edge of the bed where roots were harvested for late winter food. Robust foliage spread into the aisle, but I decided to leave the plant to observe its life cycle. A biennial in the carrot family, I looked forward to a flowering specimen. After a vigorous start, the plant languished. This spring, I noticed a lush mound of parsnip foliage, undoubtedly the sprouting of a huge Turga parsnip missed during the recent harvest. Won over by the plant and the circumstance of its location in the middle of a spacious tomato bed I had recently shaped, I gave my original experiment a second chance.

Garden parsnip flower to seed head, July 12, 2018. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Now in full bloom and setting seed, the parsnip has realized an impressive stature of over 5 feet, prompting me to invite a plant enthusiast to see it in my garden. Bill, from over the border in Connecticut, told me that he is on the lookout for giant hogweed, or hogwort, also a member of the carrot family. Giant hogweed, native to Eurasia, reaches a height of 15 feet and is extremely dangerous if touched, causing skin burns and, potentially, blindness. The mammoth plant, originally introduced in places around the world as an ornamental, has been found in Massachusetts and all bordering states.

Wild parsnip flowering on Egremont Road, South Egremont, July 11, 2018. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Back to the profusion of yellow flowers in South Egremont. Even a drive-by had convinced me that the plants are in the carrot family; they resemble Queen Anne’s lace. Researching the carrot family, I discovered yellow flowering wild parsnip, a plant that is reported to be as hazardous as poison ivy. Upon close examination of a 6-feet-tall individual, it was clear that I had, in fact, come upon wild parsnip. Most of the plants, growing crowded together, are shorter. Corroborating my observations, Dorthe Hviid, director of horticulture at Berkshire Botanical Garden, spotted the invasives when traveling on Route 102 from the intersection of Route 183 to the center of the town of Stockbridge. Becky Cushing, director of Mass Audubon’s Berkshire Sanctuaries, agreed that the plant should be treated with caution, like poison ivy.

Today in the garden, I will prune the side shoots of my vigorous Turga parsnip to direct the plant’s energy to the seeds that are maturing in the large umbels on top.

Garden parsnip seedhead, July 12, 2018. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Resources

Wild Carrot Family
Roadside Wild Parsnip – https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/pastinaca/sativa/; Queen Anne’s Lace –  https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/daucus/carota/; Cow-Parsnip –  https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/heracleum/maximum/

Giant Hogwort/Hogweed – https://cipwg.uconn.edu/giant-hogweed-in-connecticut/; and https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/72766.htmlhttp://www.wildfooduk.com/articles/giant-hogweed-and-common-hogweed; and https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/100229/why-did-jk-rowling-choose-the-name-hogwarts

Giant Hogweed videos – https://www.ctpost.com/news/media/Giant-Hogweed-in-Virginia-1287176.phphttps://fox61.com/2018/06/26/poisonous-hogweed-plant-in-connecticut-can-cause-burns-blisters/https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=24&v=YrXlVZ172T8; and giant water lily – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igkjcuw_n_U

Turga parsnip – http://turtletreeseed.org/

Saving seed of garden parsnip – http://www.heirloom-organics.com/guide/ss2/plantfamilies.html
and potential hazard – http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/pastinaca_sativa.htm

Wild parsnip flower head, July 11, 2018. Photo: Judy Isacoff
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