DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Watch your step when you pull off the road: That's the warning from Iowa environmental officials to help people avoid a burning, blistering itch that could last for months.
Wild parsnip _ native to Eurasia and nothing like the namesake root vegetable that adorns entrees at restaurants _ is an invasive weed that is spreading along Iowa's highways and can cause rashes, blisters, burning and itching.
``If you get off of the mowed areas and into the taller grass areas, you're probably going to come into some contact with wild parsnip,'' said John Walkowiak, land protection leader with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The invasive species, which has hundreds of small, yellow flowers that produce large seeds, generally blooms from June to mid-July. Federal officials say the plants can be found throughout the U.S. except in a small portion of the Southeast.
Walkowiak said there's been ``a bumper crop'' in the last several years in the Midwest, in part because of mild winters and heavy rains in the region.
Walkowiak said he has personally experienced the discomfort wild parsnip causes.
``It feels like a really severe sunburn,'' he said, adding that it took about two months for the itching and burning to go away.
Wild parsnip spreads easily on disturbed land, such as roadsides where flooding and the movement of construction equipment from one site to another can scatter the seeds miles from their original site.
In Iowa, noxious weeds including plants such as thistles must be controlled by using herbicides and other methods. Wild parsnip is not on the state's list and there are not any clear efforts to include it, Walkowiak said.