wild parsnip burn

This dangerous plant grows in Toronto and here's what to do if you spot it

Toronto is home to a wide range of flowers, plants and trees that help make the city beautiful throughout the summer months, but some of those plants can be unexpectedly dangerous and it's important to know what to do if you spot one.

Wild parsnip — also known as Pastinaca sativa or poison parsnip — is one such plant. It's part of the carrot family and is extremely invasive.

The plant is native to Europe and Asia, and many believe it was brought to North America by European settlers who grew it for its edible root, according to Ontario's Invading Species Awareness Program.

But while the plant's root may be edible, its sap contains chemicals that reduce the body's ability to protect skin from the UV rays in sunlight and can result in intense burns, rashes or blisters.

One Torontonian spotted the poisonous plant along the Don River Trail earlier this week and posted a photo of it to Reddit, along with a warning to fellow residents.

Wild parsnip grows up to one and a half-metres tall, has a single green stem that is two to five centimetres thick and smooth with few hairs, and has seeds that are flat and round. 

"Compound leaves are arranged in pairs, with sharply toothed leaflets that are shaped like a mitten," warns the invasive species awareness program. "Yellowish green flowers form umbrella-shaped clusters 10 to 20 centimetres across."

According to a spokesperson for the City of Toronto, staff are working on the safe removal of these plants, which have been spotted in Homesmith Park, Kingsmill Park, Marie Curtis Park, Humber Bay Shores Park, Upper Greenbelt, Smythe Park, Etienne Brule Park, Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, Sunnyside Park, Lambton Park, Magwood Park, Canoe Landing and Driftwood Park so far this season.

"Control for wild parsnip involves the manual removal of the vegetation including any roots by hand pulling, bagging the vegetation and then proper disposal," the spokesperson said. 

"Health and safety measures are taken when undertaking this procedure. Control is undertaken before seed set to prevent dispersal of the vegetation."

Any residents who spot the plant should not touch it or attempt to remove it themselves, and should instead report the wild parsnip by calling 311. 

Unfortunately, this isn't the only plant of this nature growing amongst us. Similar to wild parsnip — and perhaps more well-known — is cow parsnip or giant hogweed. 

This plant comes from the same family as the former and also contains dangerous sap which harms the skin upon contact. 

But instead of having a short stem with yellow flowers, giant hogweed typically has a stem of up to five metres with large, white umbrella-shaped flower clusters. 

City staff are also working to remove this invasive plant, which has been spotted in several locations across Toronto this season including Homesmith Park, Kingsmill Park, Elmcrest Park, Bloordale Park, Etienne Brule Park, Magwood Park, Charles Sariol Park, E.T. Seaton Park, Wilket Creek Park, Creekside Park, East Don Parklands (multiple locations), Taylor Creek Park, Lower Don Trail (multiple locations) and Warden Woods Park. 

So while you're out enjoying all that Toronto parks have to offer this summer, be sure to be on the lookout for these dangerous, invasive plants growing all around us.

Lead photo by

Wikimedia Commons

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