The city finally gets serious about dangerous cow parsnip near pedestrian areas

City council bans eating, selling and making illegal food items from the poisonous fruit

The city finally gets serious about dangerous cow parsnip near pedestrian areas

It could have been a plan for a giant statue – the giant parsnip eater – to eat its way up the side of Austin’s tallest apartment building. And then the city would have painted its logo on it.

Or perhaps it would have been something bright and adorable and “community”-minded like a bee arched over a city building, or pine cones roosting in oak trees, or cats perched on an antique table, or some other cute collection of objects.

No, the proposal was a real solution for a real problem.

The city is cracking down on people selling cow parsnip – the deadliest plant in Texas – which sometimes is sold to consumers in plastic cups as a gourmet snack in some of Austin’s more pedestrian areas.

The poppy flowers in tapioca leaves in the cultivar ‘Magdalena’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Cow parsnip is a plant that grows extremely fast, consuming its own leaves and flowers. It often attracts bees, but once bees become attached, they sometimes mistake the parsnip for nectar and that can turn deadly.

In some cases, the plant, which can grow to 18ft tall, produces pollen so toxic to bees that bees have died at the plant’s feet.

“When bees are drawn to that plant, they can become very aggressive, which is actually one of the ways the plant is toxic,” said Christopher Walker, chief of the city’s code enforcement and compliance division.

Employees from the city’s craft services department typically respond to phone calls from shoppers complaining about backyard wildlife, and it is rarely, if ever, that specific use of the plant becomes a problem.

The city has always had to try to ban the use of unsanitary, deadly crops along with things like eggplants and summer squash, and the latest parsnip complaints came in September.

The new limit will ban putting the plant in plastic cups in areas more lightly visited, Walker said.

“It’s a shame that anything like this has to happen, but we have to protect people who maybe don’t want to eat the parsnip,” Walker said.

The process will take time, but will eventually include a limit of up to 1lb of the plant a person can carry. First it will be conducted in an “environmental study”, and then a draft will be sent to the city attorney, according to Walker. If he approves, the new limit would take effect for at least four years.

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