Cow Parsnip

photo by Don Loarie CC BY

Cow Parsnip is a tall plant (3-10 ft) with flat umbrella-shaped clusters of small white flowers (4-8 in across). Stems are hairy and slightly ridged (2 in thick). The long, wide, woolly leaves (8-20 in) have jagged edges and are divided into 3 parts.

Cow Parsnip flowers from June to August. It grows best in moist, shady areas but can also grow in open woodlands and clearings. It can be found from Labrador to Alaska and south to Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, and New Mexico. It is very common in Alaska.

Be careful not to brush up against Cow Parsnip as its sap increases skin sensitivity to sun and can result in rashes and blisters.

Could it be? Cow Parsnip can be mistaken for Hemlock, which is very poisonous. Poison Hemlock has fern-like leaves. Water Hemlock has small, oval leaflets with jagged edges. Wild Parsnip has a smooth stem with few hairs (1-2 in thick).

Did you know? The dry hollow stems can be used to make toy flutes and whistles.