After an Essex woman was treated for burns from contact with wild parsnip, residents raised concerns about the invasive plant growing along roadsides.
The Vermont Department of Health warns sap from the plant, when it comes into contact with the skin, can cause burns after exposure to sunlight, and advises to stay away. If one does find themselves with sap on their skin, experts say to wash it off right away and stay out of the sun.
Wild parsnip flowers from late May to early July and can grow up to five feet tall, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. It has stalks of flat-topped yellow flowers and yellow-green smooth stems, and looks like hogsweed or Queen Anne’s lace.
Essex residents have seen the plant all over town, including on the side of Route 128, Mansfield Avenue and the Brickyard neighborhood. Many have raised concerns about the plant being so close to the road, especially when their children and pets are walking by, unsuspecting.
Erin Bolger lives on Brickyard Lane and said her then-2-year-old daughter ended up with blisters after coming into contact with wild parsnip in their neighborhood.
“Last summer we found a swallowtail caterpillar, and I didn’t know what wild parsnip looked like,” she said. “So I snapped the little branch off, and she held it and ended up with some small blisters on her leg.”
Bolger said the town should provide information to residents on wild parsnip to educate them on its appearance and dangers.
“I don’t think a lot of people know what it is and think it’s just a pretty yellow flower,” she said. “It is related to Queen Anne’s lace, so people may get them confused.”
Essex Parks & Recreation is collaborating with public works to identify locations of high concentration of wild parsnip in Essex.
“We’re going to visit a couple of spaces to see how close it is to people walking by or riding their bikes,” said Ally Vile, director of Essex Parks & Rec. “We may be cutting in areas if we feel that it’s a great danger to those in that public space, but we don’t have any immediate decisions on eradicating the wild parsnip at this point.”
She added the parks foreman has licenses for applying herbicides, but the department does not have plans in place to spray the invasive plant.
Elizabeth Spinney with the Vt. Agency of Natural Resources said the department works with communities on management strategies for dealing with all invasive plants.
“On state lands managed by my agency, this is one of many invasive plants we actively manage for through mowing and hand pulling,” she wrote in an email to The Reporter.
VTrans is also dedicated to managing roadside invasive plants as best as possible, and has two “best management practice” plans that all employees follow, said Craig Digiammarino, VTrans environmental program manager. Employees are also educated on identifying the plant and how avoid them while mowing, where possible, to keep them from spreading.
“Where [it’s] not possible and you have to cut an invasive species knowingly, we try to clean our equipment off before moving away from that patch of land so that we’re not dispersing seeds or viable plant material,” Digiammarino said.
Removing wild parsnip for good, however, might not have a quick and easy solution in the short term, Spinney said: “Understanding eradicating invasive plants is a complex, multi-stakeholder process that may not be achievable.”
Lincoln, Vt.’s “X Out Exotics” program, started by Tina Scharff with the town’s conservation commission last year, might provide a positive outlook for managing invasive plants in Vermont. The program organizes volunteer-driven community events to remove chervil and wild parsnip in Lincoln, and it has seen some success.
“If you drive through Lincoln, you’d be hard pressed to see either chervil or poison parsnip during the summer,” said Judy Witters, a member of the X Out Exotics team. “We’re really proud of it, and the town is happy about it.”
Witters said volunteers cut down the invasive plants and leave the seed heads in the road to dry out to prevent seeding. She said the plants would probably never disappear for good because snowplows and construction trucks often spread the seeds on roadsides.
“The key is not to get discouraged. You can get on top of it; it just takes work and consistency,” Witters said, hoping other towns take notice and start up similar projects.
“As long as we give [native plants] an edge, they’ll win because this is their territory and they know how to live here,” she said.