Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wild Parsnip and its Look-Alike: Golden Alexander

 by Carole Gernes, Ramsey Conservation District; CWMA Coordinator

Wild Parsnip - A Minnesota Noxious Weed


Wild Parsnip leaves

Ramsey County hopes to prevent invasive wild parsnip from becoming established in the county. Touching wild parsnip, a Minnesota Noxious Weed, may cause severe skin burns. An escaped garden plant, its seeds are spread by sticking to feet, tires and mowers.

Parsnip grows close to the ground the first year and up to five feet tall when flowering. Umbrella-shaped flower heads are two to 10-inches wide, containing many tiny yellow flowers. Leaves are feather-shaped, with many large-toothed leaflets growing from a central vein.

Golden Alexander

Wild parsnip flowers can often be confused with Golden Alexanders, a beneficial native plant. Golden Alexander leaves have small teeth along the edge and an overall palm-shaped or maple-leaf outline.

Excellent photos of Golden Alexanders may be found at

Although parsnip generally starts blooming later than Golden Alexanders, this year there has been some overlap. 

If you suspect that a plant is parsnip, do not touch it.  Please report its location by emailing:, or 651-792-7977, giving a good description of its location and how big the patch is. Also take photos if possible. 

A wild parsnip "burn" four days after contact.
Photo credit: Sam Potter

Together we can stop this problematic plant from affecting our outdoor activities.

Pastinaca sativa - Parsnip
Photo Credit: Minnesota Department of Agriculture



  1. Had a friend send this to me. I have this same look on my skin, but I know I have not touched it. It comes on my wrist and the back of my head at the hair line. It only last a few days. I drain it an keep it clean. It dries up an it good. I guess this has happened to my wrist about 3 times. But it came up about once every other month on the back of my head, give or take.

  2. Hi Omega; I have learned from an unfortunate experience that it is possible to get the burns from touching tools/equipment that has the dried sap on it as well. Once you get the burn, the area becomes very sensitive to the sun. The sensitivity can last for years, and it increaes your chances of developing melanoma. Make sure to apply high spf sunscreen to the area affected every time you go outside, or cover the area to avoid sun exposure. Recommendations I've seen are not to break the blisters, but you should see a dermatologist for medical advice. There are prescriptions that natural resource managers have told me about that worked; one is called Ultravate. If your encounter with wild parsnip was in Ramsey County MN, please let me know the location. Good luck and be safe out there!

  3. I have maintained a small prairie on my property in Mound, MN.
    For the first time I have a small outbreak of parsnip this year.
    The leaves are much more robust than the golden alexanders. The
    stems have ribbing. The flower is flatter and bigger. I have no idea where it came from. How do I dispose of it?

    Thanks, John Hamer 952-220-4784