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Toxic plants, ‘tiger’ mosquitoes raising concerns

JULIE LANE PHOTO Cornell Cooperative Extension staffers Marie Boulier (left) and Dr. Tamson Yeh donned protective clothing Thursday to remove toxic wild parsnip plants from an area on Ram Island Road.

Cornell Cooperative Extension staffers Marie Boulier (left) and Dr. Tamson Yeh donned protective clothing Thursday to remove toxic wild parsnip plants from an area on Ram Island Road.

Cornell Cooperative Extension staffers descended on Shelter Island Thursday morning to remove wild parsnip growing in patches along Ram Island Road and Gardiners Bay Drive near Cobbetts Lane.

The invasive and toxic plant was identified relatively early here, thanks to Greg Toner of Gardiners Bay Drive, who was familiar with it as a result of living in Vermont where it’s more prevalent.

When Andy Senesac, plant scientist for Cornell,  came on  Tuesday to inspect the wild parsnip, he told his staff to move rapidly to remove it before its seeds spread and it can take hold here.

The plant’s sap can cause painful rashes that include blistering so severe that scarring can occur on humans and animals that can last anywhere from months to years. And if the sap comes in contact with the eyes, it can cause blindness.

Tamson Yeh, turf management and pesticide specialist, and Marie Boulier, structural pest and public health educator, garbed in long sleeve shirts, long pants tucked into their boots and donning gloves to protect themselves, dug out the plants and stuffed them into plastic bags to be carried off-Island for  laboratory examination.

While many of the plants are in their first year of growth here, others showed signs of second-year growth, Ms. Boulier said. In the first year, the plants sprout small rosettes, but in the second year, they flower, she explained. Once they go to seed and that seed spreads, the problem becomes more difficult to bring under control.


The only good news is the women didn’t find growth close to the water, an indication that salt water may inhibit growth here, Ms. Boulier said.

It’s important that anyone spotting the plant report it so that it can be removed as rapidly as possible, Ms. Boulier said. An email to her at [email protected] is the fastest way to get Cornell Cooperative Extension staffers on site to remove the plant.


On another front, Cornell Cooperative Extension has received an $8,000 New York State grant to create materials and hold workshops in Suffolk County dealing with both ticks and Asian tiger mosquitoes.

The tiger-like stripes identify the mosquitoes.  While they were once found primarily in many areas, including Asia, Africa, India, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Central and South America, Australia and the Central and South Pacific, they have recently migrated here, Ms. Boulier said.


They most frequently bite during the day and can spread Chikungunya, a virus infection generally characterized by fever and joint pain lasting for a few days, although it can, in some cases, last for years, according to the CDC. In rare cases, Chikungunya disease “can be severe and disabling,” according to the CDC.

Those most at risk for more serious cases are newborns infected around the time of birth, seniors who are 65 or older and those with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

On the good news front, those who do get sick are considered likely to be protected from future infections from the Asian tiger mosquitoes, the CDC says.

Symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash and while the disease was generally found in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, last year it was found in the Caribbean.

The CDC speculated last year that it could make its way to the mainland United States as a result of infected travelers. Advice to travelers at the time was to use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.

The general treatment is to get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration and take over-the-counter medicines to relieve fever and pain.

Since the mosquitoes have been found in Suffolk County, Ms. Boulier advises property owners to avoid leaving pools of water around their houses that create breeding grounds for the mosquitoes

A workshop on ticks and Asian tiger mosquitoes is already slated for Cornell Cooperative Extension site at Cedar Beach in Southold at 10 a.m. on September 16, but Ms. Boulier is prepared to speak in other communities that might want to set up forums for their residents.

[email protected]