Wild parsnip is growing without rhyme nor reason, according to Hubbard County Agricultural Inspector Greg Hensel.

He shared his annual noxious weed report and infestation maps with the Hubbard County Board Tuesday.

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"It's growing exponentially, it seems, in spots where we've never seen it. It just showed up," Hensel said.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) describes wild parsnip as "highly invasive," developing into "large monocultures that replace native animal and plant habitat" if ignored.

The plant sap contains toxic chemicals that - when activated by sunlight - can cause serious burns or blisters if human skin comes into contact with it.

An aggressive, perennial plant, it can grow four to six feet tall.

"We tried to hit all the sites," Hensel said of spraying efforts. "Most of those are on county or township road right-of-ways. Some of it is on private (land). We made contact with those (landowners)."

"Does spraying actually kill it?" asked Board Chair Cal Johannsen.

"It does, but there was seed laying there that we're going to be fighting with," Hensel replied.

Wild parsnip cropped up along Highway 64 last summer. At one location in the woods, it's growing along both sides of a logging road for almost 100 yards, Hensel said. There's some on the east side of the Nevis School football field. It's on a vacant lot in Akeley.

"It just pops around," Hensel told the county board.

"Where's it coming from?" asked county commissioner Ed Smith.

"I'm blaming Cass County," Hensel said. "Cass County has got it bad. I mean, it is real bad."

Both the county and state sprayed a batch of wild parsnip along Highway 34. There is only plant left there now, he noted, adding, "so if you keep on it, you're gaining on it."

Leafy spurge

Three leafy spurge sites were discovered last summer. It invades pastures, grassland, prairie and roadsides, according to the MDA.

Each plant produces extensive underground stems and roots. Leafy spurge also produces seed that explodes from seed pods and can travel up to 20 feet.

Leafy spurge is a perennial plant with greenish-yellow flower bracts. Most flower in May and June.

"We try to spray those every other year and knock it back," Hensel said. "The herbicide we use on it will give us a good year of control after the summer we spray. You'll have a few come up and then we'll hit again."

A biocontrol is being utilized on some private sites. There is a beetle that specifically eats leafy spurge. "We can show you damage, but we can't show you control," Hensel said.

Brown knapweed

Hensel also cooperated with the MDA to spray for brown knapweed on private land. Hubbard County is the third in the state to report this type of knapweed, he said, adding it is along County Road 100, north of Guthrie.

He has applied for a state grant to cover the cost of brown knapweed spraying in 2018.

Only $300,000 in grant funds is available, Hensel warned, and there were 42 applicants who made $800,000 in requests.

"I hope to include all landowners with known infestations as cooperators on the grant. This grant will cover all cost of spraying, education and monitoring. We are controlling several weeds in this area," Hensel reported.

Spray shortage

Noxious weed spraying was conducted over a period of 18 days during the summer of 2017 and covered 145 miles of road, Hensel said.

"We sprayed seven townships. We had three more to do. We didn't get it done due to weather and some other factors."

One issue was a staff shortage. Hensel said he couldn't devote more time to spraying due to personnel quitting in the Hubbard County Parks Department.

Johannsen said there was one disgruntled township because spraying wasn't completed. He asked if the county should contract with a private company or hire more staff in the summertime. Hensel is currently the only certified county employee to run the spray truck. He requested another person to help spray on a regular basis.

Hensel said the county spent $11,450 last summer - $4,000 of that was for the chemical, the remainder was for labor.