Pastinaca sativa L.
Pastinaca sativa L. var. pratensis Pers.
Parsnip, wild parsnip
Wild parsnip is native to Europe and Asia, but was long ago introduced for cultivation to North America, where it is now widespread. It is common in disturbed soils. It shows up in fields, prairies, meadows, roadsides, and waste areas. It is classified as invasive or borderline invasive in many areas, such as Yellowstone National Park.
Plants: 24-60" (60-152 cm) tall, with smooth (glabrous), angular, hollow, ribbed stems.
Leaves: Alternate, odd pinnate, lobed, and toothed. Lower leaves have longer stems (petioles), and are up to 18" (45 cm) long × 6" (15 cm) across. Leaves closer to the top are up to 3" (7.6 cm) × 2" (5 cm), on shorter petioles.
Flowers: Yellow, in umbels 3-8" (7.6-20 cm) across. Umbels are flat or umbrella-shaped, composed of 15-25 umbellets. Each umbellet in turn contains between 12 and 35 flowers. Individual flowers are about ⅛" (3.2 mm) around, with five petals. Flowers appear from July to August.
Fruits: Each flower becomes a single seed ⅛-¼" (5-7 mm) in size. Seeds are indehiscent—that is, they don’t split open when they ripen. Each seed is surrounded by small “wings.”
Edibility: Although foliage can cause phytophotodermatitis, roots are edible, and smaller and sweeter than those of cultivated parsnips. Roots are sweeter if harvested after some autumn frosts, and may be baked or eaten raw.
Medical: Leaves and stems can cause phytophotodermatitis: skin irritation or blistering if handled in the presence of sunlight, due to the presence of furocoumarins. Accounts vary: some say the effect is rare, mild, or short-lived, while others warn of more severe effects. Wild parsnip foliage and roots are used in some folk medicines, and although it is not known to be harmful in prescribed amounts, neither has it been studied for efficacy.
Pastinaca sativa at Illinois Wildflowers
Pastinaca sativa on gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org
Pastinaca sativa at Minnesota Wildflowers
Pastinaca sativa on www.invasiveplantatlas.org
Pastinaca sativa on www.thepoisongarden.co.uk
Pastinaca sativa on Plants for a Future
Pastinaca sativa at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Pastinaca sativa description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.
Range: Zones 4-8: