Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions
BRIEF: Can you help me figure out what kind of plant I have here?
I work for a natural gas pipeline in Canada and we have come across a plant out here that we don't know the name of. We call it Poison Parsnip or Fireweed but I'm not sure that is it's proper common name. It looks like Queen Anne's Lace but the flowers are yellow and it can grow over five feet tall in some places. It grows just about anywhere, in fields and ditches and along fence lines. We have found it mostly in the eastern part of Ontario and some parts of Quebec. The reason I am inquiring about this particular plant is that it produces an oil which if left on the skin can cause itchy rashes, blisters and nausea. It is a bit of a problem for the men on construction because when they are out working on the pipeline they come into contact with it and acquire the above mentioned symptoms. The only thing we know of that will prevent the symptoms this plant seems to produce is to wash the area exposed to the oil with vinegar before it gets a chance to soak into your skin. I have checked the Canadian Database of Poisonous Plants but because I don't know it's proper name I can't seem to find any information on it. Could you please send any information you might have on this plant or the names of any web pages you know might have the information I am looking for?
This sounds like a relative of giant hogweed, and if it is, my condolences to the people that come in contact with it. Can you please send me a photo to this email address or to Dan Brown, Animal Science Department, Cornell University, 128 Morrison Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853.