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Published July 16, 2010, 06:00 AM

Nasty weed infests area

What you don’t know can hurt you. Konnie Jerabek knows this well.

By: Anna Holmquist, New Richmond News

What you don’t know can hurt you.

Konnie Jerabek of New Richmond, Wis. knows this well.

Wild parsnip, also known as cow parsnip, is a herbaceous plant whose sap, when exposed to UV rays, becomes an acid that burns the skin.

“My daughters encountered it while playing by a river bank,” said Jerabek, a Department of Agriculture Nursery Inspector.

They were left with long water blisters on their backs.

After the blisters disappeared, brown scars took their place and didn’t fully go away until two years later.

Jerabek is concerned that not enough people are aware of wild parsnip and its harmful effects.

“Please pay attention to this plant,” she said.

Her concern was elevated when she saw two men rolling up wire in a ditch a few weeks ago. They were wearing sleeveless shirts and were surrounded by wild parsnip.

Jerabek pulled over and warned them about the plant and decided that other people should be educated about the dangers of the weed.

The parsnip is a Queen Anne’s lace lookalike, with yellow flowers instead of white. One flowerhead can hold up to 1,000 seeds, Jerabek said.

The danger isn’t in the outside of the flower: it’s the sap and the seeds that cause the blisters. It also doesn’t affect the skin right away. Blisters begin to appear about 24 hours after exposure to the sap and the sun. Once the blisters emerge, they cannot be spread like poison ivy.

Removal of the weed is tricky. Be sure to wear protective clothing and try to work after dark to avoid the UV rays activating any sap you might get on you, said Jerabek.

The weed grows in undisturbed areas and needs sunlight to thrive. It also performs better in wet places, where it can grow up to five feet tall.

Wild parsnip is fairly new in St. Croix County. To get a better idea of what it looks like, drive along 170th St. in Stanton Township and on County Road T. The weed grows in the ditches along these roads.