Wild parsnip can be as painful as giant hogweed

Staff ~ Transcontinental Media newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on July 16, 2010
Seven-year-old Zavier MacInnis displays welts and blisters originally feared to be the result of contact with the sap of giant hogweed. However, the blisters were determined to be caused by another plant. Photo by Greg McNeil/Cape Breton Post

Cape Breton -

The mother of seven-year-old Zavier MacInnis contacted the Cape Breton Post after she believed her boy encountered the giant hogweed while playing near his Westmount home.

"They call it their cabin because there are a lot of trees and high grass and stuff," said his mother, Diane MacInnis, about the vacant lot near her home where she believed her son came in contact with the hogweed.

"He and his brother were down there playing and he had no shirt on because it was hot out that day. The next day we went camping and I noticed there was this huge mark across his chest area. It started to bubble and blister and he said it was sore."

The Cape Breton Post snapped photos of several dozen plants on the vacant lot and along the nearby roadside.

They were sent to Marian Munro, a curator of botany for the Nova Scotia Museum, for identification.

She quickly determined the plant in question to be wild parsnip, which produces similar affects as the hogweed when the sap comes in contact with human skin.

MacInnis was worried about long-terms effects of her son's contact with the plant sap, such as the possibility of long-term sensitivity to the sun and even blindness.

However, those are symptoms of the hogweed and not the wild parsnip.

Munro said wild parsnip has been in Nova Scotia for some time, but unlike the hogweed, it is not actively spreading across the region.

Gary Koziel, the agricultural resource co-ordinator with the Department of Agriculture in Cape Breton, is familiar with the wild parsnip.

"It's much smaller, but it's more prolific," said Koziel, a former district weed inspector for Cape Breton.

"You'll see it spread more on ditches and roadsides and it has a very similar effect of causing skin irritations, burning, that type of thing."

Koziel said a number of calls about suspected hogweed have come into his office.

He said wild parsnip is actually in the same family as the hogweed.

"There are a number of other plants, like poison ivy, that is probably just as bad or worse (than hogweed), because most people can't identify poison ivy, whereas this big, ugly plant (hogweed) you can see it and avoid it."

Koziel has been advising people who may encounter the hogweed to be careful.

"Treat it like poison ivy, wear protective gear if they want to get rid of it. I would recommend that they pull it and they can put it in their green bin, if they have a green bin."

Burning shouldn't be an option, though.

"The oils that are in the plant could get into the smoke and if they're burning it, it could actually cause a worse reaction if they get in the smoke of it."

People with concerns or questions can contact the Department of Agriculture.

Munro has also asked people who may need help identifying potentially dangerous plants to contact her at zinckmc@gov.ns.ca.

gmcneil@cbpost.com, ljgrant@cbpost.com