Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door



Wild parsnip

Yes, it is wild parsnip. We could not believe that the yellow umbrella flowered plant that we see EVERYWHERE, on River Rd., Cook Rd., St. Regis Rd. and just about any road or patch of unmowed land, was really wild parsnip, but it is!! We called Setanta O’Ceillaigh, Forestry Technician for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and he said there are no look alikes. He explained that 100 years ago people would cultivate them; grow them in their garden, in fields, in their lawns. People grew them for their roots, but that plant was not potent. Decades ago people stopped growing them, and stopped plowing the fields where they grew and they spread and returned to the wild form. This wild version is very potent, and since they spread their seeds through wind, they spread easily.

Wild parsnip is of concern because humans develop a severe skin irritation from contact with sap from the plant. Wild Parsnip plants have chemicals called psoralens (more precisely, furocoumarins) that cause phyto-photodermatitis: an interaction between plants (phyto) and light (photo) that induce skin (derm) inflammation (itis).  Once the furocoumarins are absorbed by the skin, they are energized by UV light on both sunny and cloudy days. They then bind to DNA and cell membranes, destroying cells and skin.

Wild Parsnip burns usually occur in streaks and elongated spots, reflecting where a damaged leaf or stem moved across the skin before exposure to sunlight. If the sap gets into the eyes, it may cause temporary or permanent blindness.

During much of July, August and early September wild parsnip is one of the most visible yellow-flowered weeds in roadside ditches, public recreation areas, around sports fields, fence rows, and along railroad tracks. It is also present on many residential properties throughout the county. The best way to control wild parsnip is by early detection and eradication. Removing a small or new infestation early will prevent a much larger problem from developing.  Regardless of the method used, the goal is to prevent the plants from seeding.


Grows up to 1.5 metres tall or 2-5 feet tall

The single green stem is two to five centimetres thick and smooth with few hairs.

This patch of Wild Parsnip is growing right alongside the parking lot of the Communications Building in St. Regis.

Compound leaves are arranged in pairs, with sharply toothed leaflets that are shaped like a mitten.

Yellowish green flowers form umbrella-shaped clusters 10 to 20 centimetres across.

Seeds are flat and round.


Become familiar with the wild parsnip plant and know it by sight.

Teach children to recognize wild parsnip

Teach children of the potential danger of poisonous plants

Discourage children from picking wild flowers.

When working around wild parsnip wear goggles, rubber gloves, rubber boots and coveralls. Thoroughly wash boots and gloves with soap, water and a scrub brush before taking off your protective clothing.


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