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Yellow Wildflowers of Ohio’s Summer, part 1.

June 5, 2011

From a Hearty Meal to a Pesky Weed

Wild Parsnip

This plant started blooming in sunny fields in May, but it is a summer plant, and is now increasing in numbers.  It is quite distinctive looking, and often grows in colonies.

Notice the flat-topped flower heads, thick grooved stem, and divided (pinnate) leaves.

These flower heads are called umbels, which are a collection of short stems forming a head of numerous small blooms.

This plant is Wild Parsnip, a member of the Carrot family, and like some of the other widespread plant species in North America, it is an aggressive invasive species introduced from Eurasia.  As a matter of fact, it was brought over by settlers of the Jamestown Colony in 1609 and spread through the wild from there.  It was a significant source of vegetables in the early American diet; in the autumn, one can dig up the carrot-like roots (parsnips) and prepare them in various ways.  This wild form of parsnip varies in palatability compared to the cultivated variety.

Be careful if you go digging them up, however, or you could get parsnip rash, otherwise known as phytophotodermatitis (how’s that for a mouthful?).  Juices from the plant in combination with sunlight can burn your skin.  The discomfort caused will soon fade away, but the skin discoloration can occasionally be long-lasting.  Nobody wants that!

Wild Parsnip is partial to sunny areas, and can be seen in fields, waste areas and along roadsides.  A wide range of insects are attracted to its nectar.  It is often considered a pest by landowners, even if it is a (marginal) food source.  It’s funny to think on this plant’s descent from old-fashioned homemade victual to modern detested weed.  Times do change.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2011 10:51 am

    Here in Texas we have a native relative, Polytaenia nuttallii, known as prairie parsley or Texas parsley. It grows as far northeast as Michigan and Indiana–almost in your back yard.

  2. June 14, 2011 1:33 pm

    Now I know what that pesky weed is in my own garden! Thanks for showing the photos and revealing the identity!

    Thanks for commenting on my Lilytopia posting. I also have a main blog where I post all the gardening-related postings plus everything else relating to my hobbies, interest and profession (graphic design and photography). You can see that blog at http://www.cindydyer.wordpress.com

    I’m enjoying your blog, too. My husband was born and raised in the Cleveland/Mentor area and has family in Columbus and Mentor.

    • September 24, 2011 12:15 pm

      Thanks, Cindy- glad to hear of your family’s Ohio connection- I’ve lived in both of those towns!

  3. September 23, 2011 8:07 pm

    Hi. I decided to go back in time and visit your post for June. This Wild Parsnip is an invasive species in New Brunswick, becoming more and more common along the Lower St. John River valley every year. Next spring I plan to do a project on the edible wild and I’ll try to learn more about this. Thanks for the information! Jane

    • September 24, 2011 12:17 pm

      Glad to help out a bit, Jane! The Wild Parsnip is mostly brown here now, but it flourishes for a while as you know. Your edible wild project sounds interesting!

  4. Ruth Wolery permalink
    July 17, 2014 1:43 am

    I needed to know the name of this because I cut this by the roadside for a flower show that I made a traditional vertical design for “230th Anniversary of the Settlement of the Darby Plains” for the Darby Valley Garden Club for region 9.

    • July 17, 2014 7:41 am

      Hope this article helped, Ruth! Glad you found the name of the wildflower!

      • rwolery1@columbus.rr.com permalink
        July 18, 2014 12:20 am

        It was amazing that the first one to come up was the exact one I was trying to fine it’s name. Thanks so much. I needed the name to list on a design 3X5 card that I was entering at our flower show today…

        Ruth W.

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