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Gardener Has Painful Encounter With Wild Parsnip

ANNANDALE, Minn. (WCCO) -- We have all heard the warnings to stay away from poison ivy, and we know the dangers if we do not.

But there is a lesser-known plant in Minnesota that is potentially more painful and difficult to treat.

It is called wild parsnip, and it is growing along roadside ditches and open fields in many parts of the state.

Wild Parsnip
Wild Parsnip (credit: CBS)

Maxine Stueven has been gardening all her life. So when she cleared what she thought were harmless weeds to make room for a hosta garden, she could not imagine why her arms were suddenly turning red.

"I had no clue what was out there and when I ended up breaking out, I figured it was poison ivy," Stueven said.

She had come in contact with the sap from the wild parsnip plant. Both of her arms were burning in pain, covered in large, weeping blisters within 24 hours.

"I was shocked," Stueven said. "Never in my life had I ever heard anything like this."

The noxious weed grows wild throughout Minnesota, especially in Savanna prairie, open fields and along roadside ditches -- where public crews work hard to eradicate it.

"Unfortunately, it is a very damaging plant," said horticulturist Mary Meyer, with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Meyer says the plant's flat-topped, umbrella-like yellow flowers and 4-to-5-foot-tall stalk differentiate wild parsnip from other similar plants.

"It looks a bit like Queen Ann's lace and cow parsnip," Meyer said.

Wild Parsnip Burns
Wild parsnip burns (credit: Maxine Stueven)

But when the sap from the plant's stalk gets onto your skin, the chemical furanocoumarins reacts with sunlight to cause the intense burns of skin tissue.

"It's the UV light along with the sap that makes the dermatitis," Meyer said. "It's a very difficult thing to get rid of."

Stueven's burns took over six difficult weeks to heal; from a pretty, yellow weed she will never look at the same again.

"Serious stuff, very serious stuff. Not fun to have," Stueven said.

Click here for more information on wild parsnip.

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