Ontario Weeds: Wild parsnip

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Leaves
  7. Flowers and Fruit
  8. Habitat
  9. Caution
  10. Similar Species
  11. Related Links

Name: Wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa L.,

Other Names: panais sauvage, Yellow parsnip, panais, panais cultivé

Family: Carrot Or Parsley Family (Umbelliferae)

General Description: Biennial, reproducing only by seed. The whole plant has a distinctive parsnip odour.

Photos and Pictures

Wild parsnip.

Wild parsnip. A. Seedling B. Taproot. C. Top of flowering stem.
Wild parsnip. A. Seedling B. Taproot.

Wild parsnip. C. Top of flowering stem.

Wild parsnip. C. Top of flowering stem.

Stems & Roots: Stems erect, 50-150cm (20-60in.) high, branched, hollow except at the nodes; seedlings with small ovate leaves on long stalks, later rosette leaves pinnately compound with broad leaflets; plants remaining as a rosette during the first season and developing a thick white to yellowish taproot.

Leaves: Stem leaves alternate (1 per node), pinnately compound with usually 2 to 5 pairs of opposite (2 at a place), sharply toothed, relatively broad leaflets that may be somewhat mitten-shaped, and 1 somewhat diamond-shaped leaflet at the tip; all leafstalks broad and completely encircle the stem; uppermost leaves reduced to narrow bracts with flowering branches from their axils.

Flowers & Fruit: Flowers yellow, small, clustered in compound umbels 10-20cm (4-8in.) across; seeds round in outline, flat and winged. Flowers from May to late autumn.

Habitat: Wild parsnip occurs throughout Ontario in abandoned yards, waste places, meadows, old fields, roadsides and railway embankments. It is very similar to the cultivated parsnip and some stands may merely be the cultivated parsnip which escaped or persisted from earlier plantings.

Caution: Some people develop a severe skin irritation from contact with the leaves of Wild parsnip, but the root of this plant is edible. 

Similar Species: It is distinguished from other members of the Carrot Family by its pinnately compound stem leaves with broad, sometimes coarsely-lobed leaflets, yellow flowers and distinctive odour.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control

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