Get to Know New York’s Natives: Cow Parsnip
Caution: This native plant can cause burns on skin
If you follow DEC on any social media platforms, it’s hard to miss that giant hogweed season is upon us. Giant hogweed is a large invasive plant from Eurasia that contains sap which can cause burning on your skin. Giant hogweed is found in many parts of the state (particularly Western and Central NY), but there are many look-alike species that can often get misidentified as this plant.
In New York State, our closest native look-alike species is cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum). Cow parsnip can grow to be more than six feet tall and has white, umbel-shaped flowers. The easiest way to distinguish cow parsnip from giant hogweed is by looking at the stem. While the invasive giant hogweed has purple splotches and coarse white hairs on its stem, the stem of the cow parsnip plant is plain green with fine white hairs. Cow parsnip’s flowers attract birds, butterflies, and ladybugs, but at this time of year, the plant has typically just finished or is wrapping up its blooming stage.
Cow parsnip is relatively uncommon in New York, but it prefers to grow in cooler habitats with moist soils or near water. Like invasive giant hogweed, our native cow parsnip also contains sap that can cause a blistering, itchy rash on skin, though the sap is not considered to be as toxic as giant hogweed. If you come in contact with the sap of this plant, immediately wash the area with soap and water and protect it from sunlight for 48 hours.
If you believe you have spotted the purple-splotched stem of an invasive giant hogweed plant this summer, please report it to DEC.
Photo: Our native cow parsnip blooms earlier in the season and tends to be shorter in height than invasive giant hogweed. Cow parsnip has a plain green stem with fine white hairs.