As hobbies go, gardening is a fairly mild, low risk activity. As long as one uses proper body mechanics when bending and lifting, usually one can get through a gardening session without a problem.
Long ago, my husband and I found the best way to rid your flower gardens of weeds is to make regular trips around the yard pulling them out. We maintained our first yard in Wisconsin this way, and continue to do so even though are yard is more than 3 times larger now.
Managing school gardens are not really any different. Regular work sessions decrease the size of the task at hand and avoid a daunting, extended gardening session in August. Last year, I was told we had Wild Parsnip in our school garden. I had no idea what it was. Since I like to learn and am a Master Gardener Volunteer, the first place I turned for information was the Cooperative Extension. I needed to learn about this invasive weed because I was told it was dangerous. The Wisconsin DNR also has extensive information about this invasive species. The plant has a sap that can burn your skin when exposed to UV light. As I learned, one should always wear gloves and don long pants as well as long sleeves if one intends to remove wild parsnip.
I followed those directions right up until last Thursday night. School was out. The garden was planted but I needed to weed, mulch, and water. After I finished, I was taking the garden debris to the dumpsters behind the school. A dumpster is probably not the best place for garden debris but it is where I was told to place the waste. On my way, I spied a large Wild Parsnip Plant in a patch of Astilbe. It was close to 90 degrees last Thursday. At 8pm, it was still 84 degrees, still hot.
So, I did what I should not have done. Wearing shorts, a short sleeve t-shirt, and garden gloves, I bent over and attempted to pull out the largest piece of wild parsnip that I’ve been able to identify. It was close to 3 feet tall with a 1.5 inch stem. I know what long tap roots do – they make plants extremely hard to pull out of the ground. Wild parsnip has a long tap root.
The stem broke.
My leg was splashed.
“Plant juices” otherwise known as sap, splashed on my leg. I didn’t think anything of it until I began to itch (which was immediately). I finished my duties and threw the wild parsnip out with the rest of the weeds. When the itchy sensation on my shin continued, I began to wonder about the dangers of pulling wild parsnip.
This is a plant that I never let the students touch if we found it in the garden while we were working. Too dangerous. Not safe. I should have heeded my own warnings.
People have been known to be severely burned by the sap of this plant that reacts with UV light to break down your skin and cause blisters, bleeding, and scabbing. To make a long story short, I have a small areas on my left shin that is scabby and irritated. It is exactly where I was “splashed” with the sap of the Wild Parsnip.
This plant is nothing to fool around with. I had considered myself lucky that I had pulled this plant out in the past and not received a rash. Last week was different. I did not follow the safety instructions and ended up with a nasty rash. Never again!