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

This species is considered a watch list species

Toxicity Concerns

  • Wild parsnip sap contains chemicals that can make skin react to sunlight, causing intense burns, rashes, or blisters (known as phytophotodermatitis). 
  • The Vermont Department of Health recommend
  • While treating wild parsnip plants, cover skin with protective clothing, like gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and eye protection. 
  • After treating plants, remove protective clothing carefully to avoid transferring any sap from your clothing onto your skin and wash yourself immediately with soap and water. 
  • DO NOT burn or compost wild parsnip plants, because it can lead to adverse reactions when inhaled, much like poison ivy.  

Treatment concerns

  • Treatments should occur before seeds set to reduce spread, as seeds are the primary means of reproduction for wild parsnip. 
  • Following treatments, clean all clothing, boots, and equipment before leaving treatment site to ensure no seeds are transported. 
  • Monitor for re-sprouts, missed plants, and new seed bank growth and do follow up treatments as necessary. 
  • Wild parsnip seeds can persist in the soil for at least 5 years before germinating, and are not impacted by chemical treatments.  

General guidance

  • Most methodologies alone will not suffice and should be part of an integrated pest management plan.  
  • Which methods you choose also depend on the purpose of control: eradication (removal of all plants, plant parts, and seed bank), or containment (reducing seed production, reducing spread, reducing growth, removing individual plants near site of concern).  
  • All action promotes disturbance - mechanical, chemical, and even just doing nothing. Our work is in figuring out how to minimize disturbance and maximize positive benefits. 
  • The intent of mechanical or chemical treatment is to kill target plants. 
  • Management options listed below are representative of research by institutions like The Nature Conservancy, The Invasive Species Centre, and Ontario Invasive Plant Council.  
  • Here is an additional guidance document from Ontario Invasive Plant Council on best management practices for wild parsnip
Summary of Mechanical Treatment Options
  • Mechanical treatment can sometimes cause greater disturbance than if the site was left alone or if another treatment option was utilized. 
  • If removing plants, ideally, leave the stems to dry out completely at the site, off the soil, and in the sun.  
  • If digging or tilling, remember that soil disturbance can encourage growth from seed bank.   
  • Hand pulling and digging this plant should be undertaken with caution due to the risk of exposure to the toxic sap. 

text in a table describing mechanical treatments for Wild Parsnip

 Summary of Chemical Treatment Options
  • Be careful not to damage or kill nearby desirable plants when conducting management work.  
  • Always read and follow pesticide label directions. Application of pesticides may require a certification from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The Agency website provides information on what applicator certification is needed.
  • If a treatment for a specific species isn’t listed on a given product, don’t use it. 
  • Product labels may require you to check Endangered Species Protection Bulletins. Learn more about protection bulletins here.  
  • Understand the risk of, and how to avoid, drift.  
  • The timing of some chemical treatments may overlap with when certain plants are flowering, and, in order to protect pollinators, herbicides should not be applied when plants are flowering. To mitigate the risk, consider utilizing an integrated pest management plan, such as cutting the plants to set back flowering time, and then applying pesticides in the lowest effective volume. 
  • Chemical treatments pose a risk to plants, animals, and humans, but can be used in ways that greatly reduce this risk, and provide a solution to otherwise hopeless scenarios. 
  • For questions regarding the appropriate chemical to use for a particular situation, or general information on pesticide safety, ingredients, and more, contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets’ Pesticide Program.  
  • For questions about certification and continuing education credit opportunities, contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets’ Pesticide Program.  
  • For questions about additional training opportunities, contact the UVM Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program.  
  • Special permits are required to apply herbicides in a wetland. Contact Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Wetlands Section for more information.  
  • Herbicides cannot be applied within 200 feet of a Public Water Source Protection Area unless the Water Supply Division is notified. Call 1-800-823-6500 for more information. Similar requirements may be in place for proximity to private water sources.  
  • Forests that are certified organic or adjacent to organically certified agricultural lands may carry restrictions regarding chemical application. Check with the Northeast Organic Farming Agency of Vermont for more information.  
  • The National Pesticide Information Center provides objective, science-based information about pesticides. Check out their website for more information or call 1-800-858-7378. 

text in a table describing chemical treatments for Wild Parsnip

  • There are no formal biocontrols for wild parsnip. The parsnip webworm can be observed causing damage to some individual plants, even severely in some cases, but is not known to devastate whole patches, so is not considered an effective biocontrol.   




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 


Ontario Invasive Plant Council BMPs for Wild Parsnip