RIVER FALLS -- When the town of Kinnickinnic was planning to handle the presence of wild parsnip, an invasive species, with broadcast spraying, resident and Master Gardener Margaret Smith thought there might be a better way to approach the issue. So she set out to find it.
Her work has earned her the Department of Natural Resources' Invader Crusader, which recognizes efforts to prevent, control or eradicate nonnative plant and animals.
“It is an honor to be recognized, but the award, to me, is recognition of the power of partnerships and volunteers to identify a problem and work together with our different areas of expertise to address it,” Smith said.
Smith has been a Master Gardener for more than 20 years, through the University of Wisconsin-Extension department.
Wild parsnip is an invasive species that is in the same family as the carrot, with a deeper taproot.
“It grows tall so it’s very easy to recognize, and the flowers on top are almost like dill flowers,” Smith said.
The sap inside the wild parsnip can cause severe burns if it gets on your skin and is exposed to sunlight. Because of this, removal needs to be done either with a riding mower, a shovel or the specially designed Parsnip Predator. A weed whacker should never be used, she said.
“Just like people learn to recognize and avoid position ivy, you want to recognize and avoid parsnip,” Smith said.
The plant takes two years to bloom, and seeds only last three to five years, so if you can keep the plant from flowering for that time, you can eliminate it, Smith said.
A resident of Kinnickinnic, Smith learned through the newspaper that the town was planning to do broadcast spraying on all roadside ditches to control the parsnip in 2017.
“One of the things I’ve learned in Master Gardeners training in herbicides and insect control and sustainable gardening and whatever, is never, ever just spray something willy nilly,” she said.
Smith teamed up with the UW-Extension office to develop a different approach.
She worked with Mark Renz and Anne Pearce. Renz told her about a mapping procedure, done using the GLEDN app, that can collect data on where an invasive species is.
Smith set up a training session for Master Gardeners and homeowners in town. She and other volunteers spent hundreds of hours on the mapping process, going out to take pictures of the parsnip they found and uploading its location.
“It took master gardeners, it took UW-Extension, horticulture educator and homeowners to make all this happen,” she said.
The results were compiled into a map that showed parsnip was present on 1-5% of roads or one to four miles.
From there, Smith gathered volunteers to dig out the parsnip in the lower density areas, and spraying was done in higher density areas. This specialized approach keeps the native plant communities healthy and intact.
“I know when I’m removing the wild parsnip, it’s keeping milkweed and other valuable plants that are needed by our birds and insects and other animals.”
The effort took a few years. The mapping was completed in September 2017, and the process for removing the parsnip is now in its third year. The species is 99.99% gone from the area where volunteers have been working to remove it, Smith said.
The whole process, Smith said, is one that other towns, cities or counties can utilize. The UW-Extension is a great resource, she said.
“It all fits in beautifully, and I’m not sure the towns or cities or the county are aware of the full extent of resources that are available to them,” she said. “And that’s why this project itself is sort of a model for how coordinating and partnering with all these different entities can make a difference.”
Smith also said it’s important to have people with native plant expertise at the table when decisions like this are made.
Video by UW-Extension on how to recognize wild parsnip: hort.uwex.edu/articles/invasive-plants-wisconsin-wild-parsnip/
How to remove wild parsnip safely: vimeo.com/226933326