A woman from Vermont is sharing her story after a brief encounter with a wild parsnip on the side of the road that turned into a medical emergency due to serious burns.

How can an invasive plant cause injuries comparable to 2nd-degree chemical burns?

Roadside Encounter

On July 15, Charlotte Murphy of Vermont shared the story of how she ended up with severe burns and blisters just because of a brief encounter with wild parsnip. In a Facebook post, Murphy shared that she did not realize that her leg had come in contact with the wild parsnip, particularly with its broken leaves, on the day that she had the encounter.

Though she knew what it was, because she was not aware of the contact, she still went about with her activities which entailed being under the sun. Days later, painless bumps began to appear but she still just went about with her outdoor activities. However, redness and swelling soon followed, causing Murphy to scratch at the area even in her sleep and she woke up with blisters on her leg.

That day, the blisters continued to grow and her leg became swollen until she was unable to walk. She was then rushed to urgent care where she was treated for burns that were evidently comparable to 2nd-degree chemical burns.

Raising Awareness

Murphy is expected to make a full recovery but has to go back for daily inspection and bandaging as the burns have spread to her other leg, fingers, and arms. She is grateful to her medical team for all the care and assistance that she got, and also wants to spread awareness about the dangers of getting in contact with wild parsnip. Because of her experience, she urges members of the public to be on the lookout for wild parsnip this summer, and to immediately seek for help in case of skin contact.

According to her, the burns would have been less severe if she had washed her skin immediately after contact, and avoided sunlight in the days that followed.

Wild Parsnip

The seemingly innocent-looking plant that Murphy encountered is the wild parsnip (pastinaca sativa), an invasive plant in the carrot family. It is a tall biennial plant that can grow up to 5 feet, and dies after releasing its seeds. It looks rather similar to other plants such as the Queen Anne’s lace because of the cluster of flowers right at the top, but its leaves, stems, and flowers may cause skin rashes or other more severe reactions, particularly when contact with the plant is coupled with exposure to sunlight.

Just like the giant hogweed, it is the plant’s sap that can cause photosensitivity, which can then cause serious chemical burns, blisters, and dark scars.

Wild parsnip’s seeds are often dispersed through roadside mowing, and it usually blooms between June and July. This is the season when it is easiest to identify the harmful invasive plant because of its yellow flower cluster, and also the time when people must be most wary of them as the plant is most potent when it is flowering.

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