Dangerous plant spotted near North Avenue Bridge

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago maintenance crews will soon cut down dangerous weeds along the Chicago River that can leave burns and blisters on exposed skin.

Wild Parsnip plants have been spotted at various locations along the river, especially around the North Avenue Bridge.

On Friday, Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department was researching if workers were allowed to cut the plants or if they were a protected species.

"We have confirmed that we are able to cut wild parsnip," Marjani Williams, a spokeswoman with Streets and Sanitation, said in an email. The "area on North Avenue will be cut early next week."

The wild plant has beautiful, umbrella-like, yellow flowers that can tower several feet into the air. While they look beautiful, Chicago resident Nate Lielasus researched the plant and learned about its danger as well.

"I love plants. I love gardening," Lielasus said. "I find it very relaxing. I mostly plant natives."

Lielasus has planted Golden Alexanders in his own backyard. Those plants are eerily similar to Wild Parsnips, and he noticed the Wild Parsnips while walking on the North Avenue Bridge recently.

"One day I was walking back from lunch. I noticed this beautiful, yellow flower that had suddenly colonized along the embankments. I stopped and looked at it," he said.

Lielasus also snapped pictures, sending them for confirmation to the University of Illinois Extension, which confirmed his finding and the risk involved as well.

"If you are standing out in the full sun, and you get the sap on your skin, your skin does become inflamed and reacts," said Chris Enroth, a University of Illinois horticulture educator. "It's basically like having a severe sunburn."

While the Wild Parsnips flourish on the west side of the Chicago River at North Avenue, the east side has been mowed down. If crews are properly dressed, or anyone at who may have these plants in their yards, they can be removed.

"To remove the plant safely, you need to be wearing long gloves and pants. You'll be okay," Enroth said.

Lielasus said he enjoys looking at all the trees, flowers, and plants throughout Chicago while walking. This time, however, he also wants to warn others about the danger, as long as it exists.

"The plants are right there," he said. "I'm really worried people are going to brush against it, go home, get these burns and have no idea why."
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.