Farm Horizons, June 2014

Control of wild parsnip will require more landowner participation

By Ivan Raconteur

It may not be possible to eliminate wild parsnip in Wright County, but many residents and groups are fighting the battle to control it.

Dan Nadeau and Kerry Saxton of Wright Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) presented information about the county’s weed program and enforcement of the Minnesota Noxious Weed Law, and asked the county board to actively support the ag inspector actively enforcing the law in dealing with wild parsnip during the April 15 board meeting.

“We will not eradicate it in the county, but we can try to control it,” Saxton said.

Nadeau noted townships, the county highway and parks departments, the SWCD, and a few private landowners have come together to control the spread of wild parsnip.

However, more participation from private landowners and adjoining counties is needed to make control possible over time. If more private landowners don’t start controlling the weed, there is no way future infestations can be controlled, Nadeau noted.

One landowner who has been active in the fight against wild parsnip is Commissioner Charlie Borrell.

Borrell said he hadn’t heard of wild parsnip until his sister told him about it five years ago. When he learned about the problem, Borrell began spraying the weed on his farm in Woodland Township.

At that time, he was paying the cost on his own. Then, three years ago, he learned about a program under which landowners are reimbursed for the cost of chemicals used to spray for wild parsnip control, and he began participating in that program.

Borrell became a weed control warrior, and when he noticed some wild parsnip on a neighbor’s property, he asked if he could spray it, and the neighbor readily agreed.

Wild parsnip often spreads along road ditches and railway lines. Borrell noted Woodland Township has also been very aggressive about spraying for wild parsnip.

Now, Borrell said, there is no wild parsnip near his farm.

“We’re winning the war in our area, but it can’t be won unless everyone gets on board,” he commented.

Borrell said the first year wild parsnip emerges, there is no flower. The second year the weed produces yellow flowers, usually around the beginning of June.

Borrell said he sprays about this time, using a product called Curtail, which also takes care of thistle.

He explained that he rarely sees wild parsnip in farm fields, because products used to control other broad leaf weeds also control wild parsnip.

Borrell said he encourages any landowner in Wright County to contact the SWCD and learn more about wild parsnip and about the reimbursement program that is available for chemicals used to control it.

Nadeau also noted that education is an important part of control.

The plan proposed by the SWCD includes a site visit from the ag inspector to show landowners what wild parsnip looks like, as well as to explain the reasoning behind controlling the spread of this noxious weed, and that reimbursement of 100 percent of the cost of herbicide is available to landowners.

After this, there will be a time period before enforcement action could be taken by the ag inspector.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the presence of wild parsnip across Wright County, with the highest concentrations identified in French Lake, Albion, and Woodland townships.

What is wild parsnip?

Wild Parsnip (pastinaca sativa) is the most recent addition to the Wright County invasive species list. This rapidly spreading plant is native to Europe and Asia.

This plant has escaped from cultivation. It is grown as a root vegetable, and is common throughout the US.

It is biennial, meaning it remains all year, recurring and flowering the next year.

It is about 6 inches high in the rosette stage, and about 4 feet high on stout, grooved stems in the flowering stage.

It produces flat-topped broad flower clusters 2- to 4-inches wide, with numerous five-petaled yellow flowers.

The leaf is made up of five to 15 egg-shaped leaflets along both sides of a common stalk. Leaflets are sharply toothed or lobed at the margins. Upper leaves are smaller.

The plant has a long, thick, edible taproot.

Wild parsnip moves into disturbed areas or along field edges. It invades slowly, but once established, it spreads rapidly, choking out other forms of vegetation. It survives in nearly any conditions, and is commonly found along road ditches, in pastures, along railroad tracks, and in fields.

People are advised to avoid skin contact with the toxic sap of the plant tissue. The sap of wild parsnip in contact with skin and in the presence of sunlight can cause a rash, blistering, or discoloration of the skin (phytophotodermatitits). A very painful rash can develop, which can lead to scarring for several months or longer.

Wild parsnip is most irritating at the time of flowering from June through September. Wearing gloves, long sleeves, and long pants are some of the precautions people can take to avoid direct contact with wild parsnip.

Several control methods can be used to deal with wild parsnip.

It can be pulled by hand, gripping the stalk just above the ground and pulling the plant from the ground. If pulling the weeds by hand after visible seeds are produced, the plants must be collected and burned.

Another method of control that is effective before the plant goes to seed is to use a spade to cut the wild parsnip root approximately 1 inch below the ground.

After the plant has gone to seed, and chemical spraying is no longer an option, burning the seed from the plant with a torch is a possibility. This is effective only after the plant has turned brown and seeded. When green flowering plants and plants with green seeds were burned, there were hardly any impacts to the plant, according to the SWCD.

Once the plant has gone to seed, cutting the tops of the plants with shears or clippers, bagging the seed, and burning it, will reduce the number of viable seeds. This can be effective after the plant has turned brown and seeded.

The SWCD notes that cutting wild parsnip with a mower can do more harm than good. If mowed too early in the year, wild parsnip will re-sprout, sending out another two or three plants.

Chemicals that can be used to control wild parsnip include:

• 2, 4-D

• Weed-B-Gone

• Curtail

• Crossbow (with a surfactant)-Broadleaf

• Round Up

• Ranger-Glyphosate

“If we can get people on board, it’s a winnable thing,” Borrell said.

There is an a new form on the Wright SWCD website,, that allows residents to report invasive weeds to the SWCD.

The form asks residents to fill in their name and e-mail address, check the name(s) of the weeds observed, and the location they were spotted.

The information reported goes to the county ag inspector.

For more information about wild parsnip control or the reimbursement program for chemicals used for control, contact the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, 311 Brighton Ave. South, Suite C, Buffalo; (763) 682-1970; or

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