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Pastinaca sativa

LHPrism Status 
Tier 4 - Widespread
Species Type 
  • Terrestrial Plants
Abandoned Farm
Impacts of this species 

Pastinaca sativa can overwhelm locations where native vegetation hasn't fully established. Wild parsnips are very persistent along edges and disturbed areas, and are found commonly in bare locations, like paths, roadsides, and utility right of ways, and are aggresively competitive where native plants aren't well established. Because of being so prominent in disturbed areas, they can easily be spread by animals, and by humans that are working, hiking, or harvesting, and are often accidentally spread through clothing and equipment. It can also have substantial effects on human health. Some are sensitive to the plant and can develop a burning, blistering, discolored rash if they come in contact with the leaves or the sap and are exposed to direct sunlight. Skin sensitivity can last for up to a year after initial contact. This occurs most frequently in June and July, when the plant is in bloom.


Wild parsnip is native to Europe and Asia, and is thought to have been an escapee from cultivation in the United States. It is commonly found in the northern United States and Southern Canada, and has spread westward to California, and as far south as Louisiana. The heaviest concentrations are located in the Lower Hudson Valley, Catskills, and southern Adirondacks.

Wild parsnip is a biennial or perrenial herb, and stands up to 5 ft. tall. The leaves are pinnately compound, seen in pairs along the stalk, and are oval to oblong that have saw toothed edges.  The roots are smooth and cylindrical, with lateral roots growing from a central tap root. When in bloom from June to mid-July, hundreds of small, flat, yellow flowers can be seen. Seedlings emerge from February through April and form rosettes, and grow vegetatively for a year or more before forming an aerial shoot and flower. The herb dies after producing seed, which can remain viable for up to four years in soil. 

Wild parsnip is well adapted to a variety of environments. They can grow in a range of soil conditions, persisting in dry to wet praries. These plants thrive best in woil that is alkaline, calcareous, rich in nutrients and moist. They can grow opportunistically in forest openings. These plants grow best with direct sunlight and are commonly found in disturbed areas, including roadsides, trail edges, abandoned fields and pastures. Wild parsnips are widespread thoughout the Lower Hudson region and has yet to be regulated by New York state.

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