Poisonous weed can burn and scar, DNR warns

Posted at 2:46 PM, Jun 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 09:51:08-04

Iowans are being warned about a poisonous weed sprouting up across the state; and this plant can be found in Wisconsin as well.

It looks like a harmless wildflower. But the simple-looking blossom can cause big problems if you touch it.

Wendy Prusha spent a June day cleaning up the creek next to her home in Union. She was pulling lilies for a front porch decoration.

"And I just got down here and I was digging them up and getting down to the roots," Prusha remembers.

What seemed like a harmless gardening task turned into a trip to the emergency room.

"It's a constant burning, it just bubbled up overnight," she says.

Wendy came in contact with wild parsnip.

"The oils sit on your skin, it's a constant burning and it eats away your skin," she says.

Two weeks ago, it blistered her forearm with burning pain - red and cracked. The DNR says wild parsnip looks like a dill plant or Queen Anne's lace. It's yellow, and grows about four feet tall.

The poisonous weed is most commonly found along roadside ditches, along bike trails, open fields, and prairie areas. 

Wendy's family immediately sprayed and mowed the area, effectively killing the weed. Now she's on a mission to inform others about the pain and suffering caused by what looks like a simple wildflower.

"Let them know what it looks like and to tell to them to stay away from it," she says.

Chemicals in the juice of the poison parsnip react with sunlight and cause a breakdown of cells and tissues. Effects can last for weeks, and scars can last for years. Get more information on the Wisconsin DNR's website.