Bless you! While phytophotodermatitis may sound like a drawn out sneeze, it is a very real condition to be aware of, especially if you enjoy wandering around the eastern upper peninsula’s open fields. Some of our local native plants as well as one pesky invasive can easily give you this condition without you even realizing until a few hours later.
Phytophotodermatitis is a skin condition in which a chemical commonly found in plant sap contacts the skin of someone and reacts with the ultraviolet waves from the sun causing in some cases severe burns. Depending on the plant and how long the sap made contact with the skin, burns can get as bad as third degree burns.
So, what plants in the eastern upper peninsula can cause such damage? Native growing plants that can cause phytophotodermatitis would be Cow Parsnip. This plant has large broad and lobed leaves with white flowers. Flowers commonly resemble Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. Invasive plants found in the EUP with phytophotodermatitis causing sap would be Wild Parsnip. Wild parsnip has smaller broad and lobed leaves, but it has yellow flowers. Sap from Wild Parsnip is much more damaging than sap from Cow Parsnip, so be sure to immediately wash any skin that came into contact with Wild Parsnip as soon as possible to prevent burns as bad as second degree.
Another invasive plant that is in the same family as the previously mentioned last two plants that has not been found in the eastern upper peninsula yet is Hogweed. Hogweed is the most damaging plant in the phytophotodermatitis carrot family. It can cause third degree burns to the skin and cause blindness. In very severe cases, such as falling into a hogweed plant, death can occur but it is very rare and has only happened on a couple occasions. Recurrent burns are common however to those who have come in contact with hogweed sap. Hogweed looks very similar to Cow Parsnip but Hogweed is roughly double the size of Cow Parsnip.
If you enjoy foraging or simply walking through fields, use great caution around Wild Parsnip and Cow Parsnip. If you suspect a Hogweed infestation, please contact us so we can go check it out and properly dispose of the plant if need be.
Thank you and safe recreating!