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Wild Parsnip Spreading, Leaving Hikers Blistered & Burned

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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FRONTENAC, Minn. (WCCO) – Along Frontenac State Park’s pristine grasses and wildflowers is an unwanted guest.

It’s wild parsnip, an invasive species that threatens to spread across the state, leaving anyone who comes in contact with it dealing with pain that far surpasses any poison ivy encounter.

“It’s got a yellow flat top, full of little flowers on it,” said Laura Van Riper, the terrestrial invasive species coordinator for the DNR.

Van Riper said that while other invasive species threaten Minnesota’s lakes and waterways, wild parsnip is quickly becoming a menace on land.

At Frontenac State Park, hikers and campers are being cautioned to tread carefully if they venture off the trails.

“We try to give them warning — we don’t say you can’t go out, but you should avoid it,” Park Manager Harry Roberts said. “Because if you get it on you and any sun at all, it’s going to be worse than any poison ivy attack you’ve gone through.”

The parsnip leaves and stalk contain a juicy substance or “sap.”

When the substance gets on exposed skin and reacts with sunlight, it can cause an intense chemical burn. The Internet is full of grotesque photographs of patient’s hands, legs and bodies with huge blisters and reddened skin.

An encounter with wild parsnip in 2011 left Karl Erie blistered, burned and very uncomfortable for weeks.
“It blisters, it boils and it itches,” Erie said. “It’s the trifecta.”

With shovels in the ground and gloves on their hands, Erie is leading a crew with members of the Conservation Corp Minnesota uprooting thousands of plants from Frontenac State Park.

It’s an effort to keep this summer’s campers blister free.

“(The rash) can last a year or two, the scar and the discoloration,” Van Riper said. “It can be very long lasting.”

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