Wild parsnip

Fact SheetPastinaca sativa

Images of this species:

Common look-alikes:


**Warning--this plant contains a phototoxic sap that can cause burns, blistering, and skin discoloration. Please read the alert from the Vermont Department of Health before managing for this plant**


Pastinaca sativa is a biennial/perennial herb that looks and smells similar to cultivated parsnip and can grow up to 4 feet in height.


Leaves are alternate, compound and branched with jagged teeth. Leaflets are yellowish-green, shiny, oblong, coarsely-toothed, and diamond-shaped.


Flowering occurs from May to June, hundreds of yellow flowers develop. Flowers are arranged in an umbel.


Fruits are dry, smooth, slightly winged and flattened on the back. Fruits each contain two seeds, which are dispersed in the fall.



Native to Eurasia.


It is located in a wide range of growing conditions including dry to wet prairies, oak openings and calcareous fens (rare wetland community watered by mineral-rich, alkaline groundwater or seeps). It is commonly found along roadsides, pastures, and in abandoned fields.

Life cycle

Seedlings emerge from February through April, form rosettes and grow vegetatively for one or more years before they form an aerial shoot (bolt) and flower. Hundreds of small yellow flowers are produced on each plant and bloom from June to mid-July. Large yellow seeds are round, flat and slightly ribbed. Plants die after producing seeds. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for four years.

Ecological Threat

Wild parsnip invades and modifies open disturbed habitats. Once an infestation begins, it can spread across an area to form dense stands. Contact with this plant can cause skin to become photosensitive; exposure to sunlight can cause severe blistering.

Management Options

Mechanical Control

Parsnip is among the first plants to emerge and may be easily detected and dug out. For large populations, a power bush cutter can be used to cut plants at the base of the stem before flowering, however, plants may resprout. Burning does not harm plants, they simply resprout.

Chemical Control

It can be effectively controlled using any of several readily available general use herbicides such as glyphosate or triclopyr to spot treat basal rosettes. Follow label and state requirements.

Natural Enemies

The parsnip webworm damages some individual plants severely but is not known to devastate whole patches.

**Be careful not to damage or kill nearby native plants when conducting management work. And when using herbicides, always follow the instructions on the label.**



Photo Credit

5450881, 5450886, Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

1551132, John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Information Credit 

U.S. Forest Service