Poisonous wild parsnip invading Eastern Ontario

These yellow blooms are as beautiful as they are dangerous.

A close relative to giant hogweed, wild parsnip is an invasive species with a dangerous sap that can burn and scar skin – and it’s currently invading Eastern Ontario.

From Oshawa to Ottawa, it’s growing along hiking trails, roadsides, and even in backyard gardens.

“It appears to be spreading,” Tom Beaubiah, a biologist with the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority, told the Northumberland News. “It’s everywhere.”

When the plant’s poisonous sap touches bare skin, it can cause phytophotodermatitis – a chemical reaction that makes skin incredibly sensitive to UV light. This means that a person may touch the sap and only realize they’re having a chemical reaction until hours or even days later. Skin will redden, blister, and feel like it’s burning and stinging.

Sherry Steeves is suffering from some of these symptoms after she was exposed to the plant while tending to her home garden in Renfrew, Ont.

“I noticed I had three holes that looked like sirloin steak,” Steeves said in an interview with the CBC. “My whole thigh was all blistered and swollen.”

Since Steeves encountered the plants two weeks ago, her doctor has ordered her to avoid direct sunlight for three years. “Vampire syndrome, I’ve named it. Because you can go out at night and do what you want, but during the day you have to hide because the UV rays will burn you,” Steeves said.

In Ottawa, wild parsnip has forced the closure of a section of the Rideau Trail and is invading parks in several neighbourhoods. And in Oshawa, an 11-year-old boy suffered from giant red blisters behind his knee after he fell off his bike and into a cluster of the plants.

Wild parsnip seeds can easily spread by wildlife, wind, water, or during lawn mowing. Beaubiah recommends that if you do find the plant in your yard, you put on pants, long sleeves, shoes, and gloves before attempting to hand-pull the plant. After, safely dispose of the plants in the garbage.

The plant grows up to 1.5-meters tall and can be identified by its yellowish green flowers that form umbrella-shaped clusters. Wild parsnip is often confused for giant hogweed, cow parsnip, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Angelica, which is actually a native species to Ontario.

If you spot a large cluster of wild parsnip on your property, at a park, or anywhere in your community, call the Invading Species Hotline at 1 800 563 7711.