Cow parsnip: This fall, this community is fighting a terrible scourge

Cow parsnip, or mulberry rose petals, is a delicate, green-speckled, pumpkin-like fruit with none of the pungency of the familiar pumpkin. Its taste-out-of-this-world flavor has earned it a new lease on life by becoming the new darling of this year’s Halloween pranksters. For its tipplers, though, the smaller parsnip fruit is never as enjoyable as the big, bumpy, prickly fruit some call “miracle apples.”

A caveat about “miracle apples”: They really aren’t as harmless as they look. Approximately half a million people were treated for minor injuries from falling on them each year during the 2016 Halloween season.

Like most urban boons, cow parsnip’s main fault is that it’s ubiquitous. Cow parsnip should not be found anywhere other than a hopscotch board at the farmers market. But there are nine city blocks between northwest 44th Street and Union Avenue that fall into that neighborhood’s azure-sky hues — more than a typical mile-long stretch.

Yelp bills the block as a “soggy mess” and instead says it is “so bad” and is “gross.” Someone has already given the block an unenthusiastic one-star rating and raved, “not at all pleasant.” “It’s hard to miss after it gets wet from a rainstorm,” notes one reviewer. A third, less enamored than the first two, sings its praises.

It’s not the location, though, but the presence that is the issue. Its roots can be spread by human hands, as numerous reviewers have discovered. Adults with bad joke tickets have grazed the baby fruit as their children have chomped on them. A neighbor set his little girl on some just-wet street plants, with disastrous results. But kids are kids. And one five-year-old was videotaped happily pushing a brand-new pile on to his keyboard — for his friends, you understand.

That’s why it’s gotten to be too much. So this autumn, city agencies have started getting serious about fighting the spread of the mulberry rose-parsnip tree, which has bloomed in recent years along both lanes of traffic. City agencies spend about $500,000 per year to remove the big-leafed, cotoneaster-like trees — typically located between houses — from sidewalks and crosswalks in violation of pedestrian laws. They are performing weekly salutes at the tree, but at least one tree has been being plucked off the tree by city workers.

Even a fall vandalism with such a devastating impact, though, it doesn’t seem a crime that can be charged as a crime. “We did not arrest anybody,” says Deputy Chief Thomas Antonetti, of the department’s Seventh Precinct.

It will be more appropriate, though, for the city to crack down on penny fiddlers.

Take a look at this guide to Halloween rowdiness:

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