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Wild Parsnip Vs Wild Mustard: Learn More About Crucifers

Many gardeners confuse Wild Parsnip for Wild Mustard because of their similar-looking yellow flowers, but they are different species.

Generally, Wild Parsnip and Wild Mustard are invasive plants with many dissimilarities, including appearance and size, stem structure, sap toxicity, varying growth habits, and flower arrangement.

If you suspect your garden or meadow is invaded by one of these weeds, read on to know more about them.

Wild Parsnip & Wild Mustard: Similarities

Wild Mustard (Sinapsis arvensis) and Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) are more similar than you imagine because these are both invasive plants with the same habitat.

You would find them growing almost everywhere and spreading rapidly in a short time, hence the term “weed plants.”

wild parsnip vs mustard
One of the major similarities between wild mustard and parsnip is yellow blooms.

Along with sharing visual similarities, they share many other factors as such.

  1. Yellow Flowers: Both species boast small, yellow flowers as they mature and may look quite similar, particularly from a distance or when the plants are not in full bloom.
  2. Foliage: The leaves of both weeds have lobed or pinnately (arranged on either side) divided shapes, especially when they are young.
  3. Habitat Overlap: Both are invasive species that grow in similar habitats, including less frequently visited fields, meadows, roadsides, and disturbed areas.
  4. Environmental Impact: They proliferate, suppressing the growth of native plant species, but may also help provide cover, soil stabilization, and reduce other weeds.
  5. Life Cycles: They share a similar life cycle, with Wild Parsnip typically being biennial and Wild Mustard being annual or biennial.
  6. Seed Dispersal: They primarily spread through seed dispersal, contributing to their invasive nature.
Although rare, Wild Mustard and Parsnip are edible, and the latter’s roots can be cooked and consumed. However, you should exercise extra caution as the plant’s sap contains psoralens causing skin allergy “phytophotodermatitis.”

Wild Parsnip Vs. Wild Mustard: Differences

Did you know Wild Parsnip and Wild Mustard are invasive species from Europe and were introduced to North America as a crop?

Although a weed variety, both (Wild Parsnip vs Wild Mustard) share many dissimilarities, which may be helpful when identifying them.

1. Plant Size and Seedling

Unlike Cow Parsnip, Wild Parsnip is slightly taller and grows 5 feet tall (1-2.5 m).

Wild mustard, contrarily, is shorter, reaching only about 2-3 feet in height, but can vary depending on growing conditions.

However, the growth and size primarily depend on the weather, soil type, and condition.

Wild parsnip and Wild Mustard have a relatively high seed production rate, where each plant may produce numerous seeds, contributing to their rapid invasion.

2. Leaves Appearance

The Wild Parsnip has compound leaves with lobes shaped like a hand with fingers, with fuzzy undersides, measuring up to 6 in (15.2 cm).

The leaves are typically arranged in a rosette during the first year of growth and become alternately arranged in pairs during the second year.

Wild mustard boasts deeply lobed or pinnately divided leaves, where the lower leaves are usually stalked. You would also find the leaf surface hairy with a slightly rough texture.

In fact, you can harvest fresh leaves and use them raw in salads or cooked in different dishes.

3. Growth Habit and Spread

Wild Parsnip is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete a life cycle or produce seeds.

It forms leaves in the first year, producing a flowering stalk and setting seeds in the second year.

On the other hand, Wild Mustard is an annual, and sometimes biennial, plant that sets seeds each year.

It germinates from seed each year and completes its life cycle within a year.

4. Flower Appearance

Wild Parsnip boasts dense clusters of yellow flowers arranged in an umbrella-like shape (umbel), which measures 4-8 inches.

A single umbel can contain numerous small individual flowers, which may look like a large blossom from a distance.

Wild Mustard produces small yellow flowers with four petals, often in clusters, which may give it an impression of Wild Parsnip.

5. Roots and Uses

Wild Parsnip grows a long, thick taproot, usually pale yellow or cream-colored.

These roots can be harvested and cooked for eating, but beware of furanocoumarins and psoralens, which may invite skin problems.

wild parsnip roots
Although toxic, Wild Parsnip roots can be cooked and eaten.

Wild Mustard forms a fibrous root system with smaller roots branching out, which are not edible.

6. Plant Toxicity

Wild Parsnip produces sap containing harmful chemicals called psoralens, which can cause skin reactions (phytophotodermatitis).

Similarly, it contains furanocoumarins, which makes your skin vulnerable to UV radiation.

Therefore, using gloves is essential when uprooting the plants from their habitat.

In case of poisoning in pets, consider calling the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

On the other hand, Wild Mustard is generally considered non-toxic, causing no significant harm.

From Editorial Team

Final Thought!

Although growing Wild Parsnip and Mustard help provide soil stability and reduce erosion, they can quickly invade your garden.

Therefore, regularly weed out your garden to reduce the number of wild weeds and their spread.

Otherwise, use systemic herbicide spray to inhibit the growth of these weeds.

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