Watch out for wild parsnips

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- It’s a poisonous weed that causes a painful rash and it’s popping up now in the fields and woods of Iowa.

But in this case, we’re not talking about the usual suspects—poison ivy or poison oak.

Instead, wild parsnip is a “problem plant” that many people simply don’t recognize. It’s an invasive species that vaguely resembles a celery stalk with small yellow flowers.

If you come in contact with the sap inside the stalks, or even bruise the leaves, it can leave an oily residue on skin.

It’s that residue, in the presence of sunlight, that causes a rash to start.

Jean Wiedenheft, with the Indian Creek Nature Center, says “it feels like a burn. It feels like you stuck your hand on a stove and you have a burn from it.”

Wiedenheft says early in the spring, the wild parsnip plants are smaller and hikers and people out walking don’t have as much contact with them.

But as the plants are full grown now, about four feet tall, it’s easier for people outdoors to brush up against them and not realize the potential danger.

Outdoor enthusiasts say if you come in contact with the plant, you need to get out of sunlight that activates the oily residue and wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says wild parsnips can be found growing in all 50 states.