Wild Parsnip Burns Little Boy In Ottawa, Canada

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July 24, 2019

What happens when you come into contact with wild parsnip? Unfortunately, a 4-year-old boy in Ottawa, Canada, recently found out.

George Young was walking to a splash pad with his summer camp group this month when he picked the plant in a local park, says CTV News.

Shortly after, his hand broke out in big, yellow, painful blisters. His burns are so bad, his mother, who is a nurse, had to dress them in several layers of bandages. It’s hard to look at.  

About Wild Parsnip

Wild parsnip is an invasive species prevalent in both Canada and the United States; it can be found from British Columbia to California, and from Ontario to Florida.

According to Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program, the plant hails from Europe and Asia. It was likely brought to North America by European settlers who grew it for its edible root. 

The root is good to eat, but the sap the plant produces is very dangerous. It causes our skin to become sensitive to sunlight, often leading to severe burns, blisters, and rashes.

What To Look For

You can usually find wild parsnip on roadsides or in poorly maintained pastures and fields. But the story out of Ottawa proves it may also grow in public parks. It’s important to be on the lookout. 

A member of the carrot/parsnip family, the wild variety is similar in appearance and is often mistaken for Queen Anne’s Lace, which is not poisonous at all. 

Wild parsnip characteristics:

  • Grows up to 1.5 meters tall
  • Has yellow-green flower umbrella-shaped clusters
  • The leaves have 2-5 leaflets shaped like mittens and one diamond-shaped leaflet
  • The stem is green and smooth with few hairs 

Very Invasive

Invasive species such as wild parsnip are a risk to human health and our environmental biodiversity. 

Where little George Young was burned in Ottawa, officials have been desperately trying to control wild parsnip for years. 

The city sprays the plant with the hopes of killing it, but once it goes from flower to seed, which is around this time every summer, all bets are off. 

The seeds are easily carried to new locations by wind and water or any activity that moves them around. The seeds can also live for many years before they germinate. 

Once it does bloom, experts say it can take up to five years to fully eradicate a wild parsnip. It’s an uphill battle. 

If You Do Touch It

If you do come into contact with wild parsnip, take action right away.

The Vermont Department of Health recommends washing the affected area right away. 

It’s also essential to cover your skin up and avoid the sun for the next 48 hours, as the light will only provoke the reaction. If burns and blisters begin to form, call a doctor. 

Catherine Sherriffs
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Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her two young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.
Catherine Sherriffs
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