Painful invasive species getting closer to residential areas

Touching wild parsnip can have itchy and painful side effects

It looks like a flower, you may even be tempted to pick it but don’t. Wild parsnip can have damaging effects if touched and exposed to sunlight.

“It contains sap, which is kind of like a chemical that burns skin,” said Joey Writz, the environmental assistant for La Crosse County Health Department.

Originally found in low populated areas, Writz said it’s making its way into towns. The invasive species has been recently spotted in Onalaska, Holmen, Bangor and West Salem.

“In West Salem and there are houses right across the road from it,” Writz said. “Once it flowers and seeds then it drop more seeds and those get dispersed further.”

The further the plant spreads, the more likely residents are to brush up against its sun sensitive sap.

“They walk through some without knowing it and it spreads up their whole leg, because they touch it and they don’t know about it right away until they are in the sunlight and it starts getting bad,” Writz said.

If you are exposed to sun-sensitive sap and burning occurs, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends washing the area thoroughly to reduce further exposure, cover the area with a cool/wet cloth, try to keep blisters from breaking for as long as possible, and apply antibiotic cream. If the area is heavily blistered see a doctor.

Writz said above anything make sure to avoid area where you think the plant may be growing.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say that it looks good and they want to get a bouquet of flowers and take it, but that would be a bad idea for these ones,” Writz said.

The county is working on reducing the wild parsnip species by mowing it down to prevent seeds from spreading. However Writz said that really only buys time because the species will eventually grow back.

To remove plants for your property be sure to wear long sleeve clothing. Cut root at an angle 1 to 2 inches below soil surface. A brush-cutter can also be used for large populations before seeds set. Remove flowering heads and dispose of in landfill or by burning, according to the Wisconsin DNR. Carefully take off clothing after removing, before putting it in the laundry.