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Identification, control, and report of Wild Parsnip

Golden alexanders plant
Golden alexanders

Source: Emily Hansen, University of Minnesota Extension - Wright, McLeod and Meeker Counties, hans6005@umn.edu. 612-394-6302


In the 1990s, the non-native plant, Wild Parsnip was first discovered in Minnesota and landed itself on the Minnesota Noxious Weed List due to its aggressive spread and physical harm to humans. Correctly identifying wild parsnip is key to controlling and reporting it to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. 

Wild Parsnip usually finds its habitat on roadsides and abandoned fields or lots. It usually grows in dry soil with full to partial sun needed. 

Wild Parsnip is commonly confused with two Minnesota natives: Golden alexanders and Goldenrods. Golden alexanders reach 1-2 feet tall and have smooth shiny stems that produce compound basal leaves. The flower contains compound umbels of numerous 5-parted, yellow flowers. Goldenrods have tansy foliage that is pinnately divided and the flowers have ray petals surrounding central, disk-like florets.

There are some key differences in correctly identifying Wild Parsnip. The noxious weed has a grooved stalk that can reach up to 5 feet. The basal leaves are pinnately compound with 5-15 leaflets with the base of the leaf stalk wrapping around the grooved stem. Wild Parsnip has 12-35, 5-petaled, small yellow flowers. The yellow petals remain tightly curled against the side of the flowers. Comparing the two lookalikes with these characteristics of Wild Parsnip will determine if a report needs to be made.

Wild parsnip yellow flowers.
Wild Parsnip

Due to the Minnesota Noxious Weed Law, efforts must be made to prevent seed maturation and the spread of Wild Parsnip. There is no transportation, propagation, or sale of these plants allowed. 

Control of Wild Parsnip will depend on the time of year. It is best to mow, to prevent flowering, from May to July. It is important to pay attention to the seed. If the seed is present, do not mow from July to November. There are foliar herbicides that can be applied during the foliar stage between May and June or September through October. 

It is important to note that Wild Parsnip is dangerous to humans and is not recommended to be handpicked. It is critical to always wear protective clothing, goggles, or a face mask. Contact with the sap of Wild Parsnip combined with exposure to sunlight can cause severe blistering and swelling. Seek medical attention if you come in contact with this weed.

To report Wild Parsnip, contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, through Report a Pest, at 1-888-545-6684. Leave a detailed message that includes your name, location, contact number, and the type of pest that you want to report. The voicemail will be forwarded to the agency in charge of that pest.

For information about this or any horticulturally related topic, please reach out to your local Extension Educator. Residents in Wright, Meeker, and McLeod counties can email hans6005@umn.edu or call 612-394-6302. 

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