Cow Parsnip and the True Cost of Maintaining Your Garden

Sheep, cows, monkeys and mice love poop. Your dog loves it too. And now a small mammal is keeping the city government busy.

It’s the dreaded cow parsnip.

Cows poop over 5 million tons of manure each year into the city and suburban wastewater systems, mainly in alleys, backyard creeks and streams where it finds a niche for itself.

And this plant thrives.

Theoretically it is harmless to humans, foxes and rabbits, but has burrowed its way into flower beds and bushes where it is toxic to amphibians, snakes and rats.

Early this year, the city was forced to ban any purchase, sale or use of the plant, after it drew the ire of the the Rufus King Animal Rights Campaign and their affiliate, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Now, suddenly, the city is reviving one of the first programs under the Smart City initiative, where everything from planning to zoning and public safety are in a strict federal and state formula.

The program, launched earlier this year and already funded by a $4 million federal grant, is an administrative coup.

If all goes as planned, the city will soon give annual permits to plant cow parsnip tolerant or native plants.

The city is so serious about the cow parsnip program that a hired firm began putting out manure blocks on streets. Its pitch was that the buck stops with the city to prevent the contamination of civic water sources.

A recent issue of Scientific American Magazine has some disturbing information on the dangers of the cow parsnip.

“As farmers use more and more Roundup, the herbicide, on crops that will be eaten by humans, they also carry about three-quarters of a million tons of manure into water supplies annually. Cow parsnip – found only in the Central United States – is one of the most toxic plants found in animal manure.

“Water scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently reported that the plant not only contains significantly more phosphorus than other growths in a landfill, it has 1,100 times the amount of arsenic and twice the amount of calcium. Cow parsnip also can make the water turbid and alkaline, and it has a high acidity that make it extremely toxic for fish and amphibians.”

So, what can you do to cut down on your contribution to the manure problem?

1. Make sure the company is approved by the Department of Building and Sanitation before working on your property. It is illegal to use manure without a permit.

2. If you need to spread manure, only use the safest and best quality manure available.

3. If you have a guttural smell when working, burn off the manure, as it contains a naturally occurring herbicide that may damage your lawn and spread over your property.

If this scares you, continue to be vigilant when it comes to disposal of animal waste.

Michael Wilcox is a morning news anchor for Fox News Channel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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