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Poisonous wild parsnip makes itself known in the north country


Some flowers are better left alone.

In the case of wild parsnip, the failure to keep away could come with serious consequences – a lesson two children recently found out the hard way.

Amanda M. Wells of Ogdensburg said her children, Mackinley, 2, and Jayce, 4, went outside to pick flowers for their grandmother last Sunday when they came into contact with the sap of wild parsnip flowers.

Within 24 hours, a serious rash developed and blisters were soon to follow, Ms. Wells said.

“They like to pick flowers, and that’s the coolest looking one,” she said.

A member of the same family of plants as Queen Anne’s Lace, wild parsnip can grow to be 6 feet tall and sprouts bright yellow flowers that cover fields and ditches along the side of the road.

It was the natural beauty of the plant that drew the Wells children to it, and by the time they were done collecting the flowers their hands were covered in sap.

The sap alone won’t do much harm, said Kitty A. O’Neil, regional field crops and soil specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

“The problem is that it doesn’t hurt right away,” Ms. O’Neil said.

It’s chemicals within the sap that makes the skin extra-sensitive to sunlight, causing the rashes and blisters to develop.

In the case of the Wells children, they played outside all day with the sap on their hands, Ms. Wells said.

“On Monday they woke up with rashes, on Tuesday they had blisters,” she said.

And the rashes remain sensitive to sunlight for months after the initial contact, Ms. Wells said.

According to a release by Cornell Cooperative Extension, being exposed to sunlight can make the rash and blisters worse, and even after the rash clears the skin can remain sensitive for several years.

“It’s a lot worse than poison ivy,” Ms. Wells said.

Jayce only had contact with the sap on his hands, Ms. Wells said, but Mackinley spread it to her face.

“It shouldn’t have to happen to anybody,” Ms. Wells said.

The plant is relatively new to the north country, said Ms. O’Neil. An invasive species native to Europe and Asia, “it’s become a much more prevalent plant [in the last several years],” she said.

It’s the prevalence and unfamiliarity with the plant that is causing problems.

Ms. Wells said she had never heard of the plant until her children came into contact with it last weekend.

Now Ms. Wells is spreading the word. Anyone who comes into contact with the plant can avoid more serious problems if they wash the sap off quickly, she said, thereby limiting the amount of expose they have to sunlight.

Ms. O’Neil said if you discover it in your yard, you should wear gloves when you’re snipping it, “and be safe; wash your hands and arms and face.”

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