Archive for July 4th, 2009


What happens when well-behaved, garden-variety parsnips break loose from the bonds of cultivation and strike out on their own?


They become roadside loiterers, hanging out on the margins of country thoroughfares, figuratively thumbing their noses at their would-be consumers as they zip by in their automobiles. Parsnips were brought to North America by early settlers as a source of food, and fodder for livestock. Inevitably, some plants self-seeded and found their way into a wild existence, reverting to a form closer to that of their ancestors. They are now common along rural roads. Wild parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) have thinner roots than their cultivated cousins, but can still be used as a vegetable. Young shoots are also edible, though as they age, leaves become too tough and strong-flavoured. In Britain, parsnips were used as a livestock feed, especially for fattening pigs.

Wild Parsnip can grow to a height ranging from 60 to 150 cm. The tiny yellow flowers are borne in clusters of lacy umbels, 5 to 20 cm wide. Wild Parsnip plants can cause a severe rash. They contain chemicals that cause phyto-photodermatitis: an interaction between plants (phyto) and light (photo) that induces skin (derm) inflammation (itis) in sunlight.

Carrots have similarly made their way into the wild and are familiar as Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). Both are members of the Apiaceae, or parsley and carrot family.


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