Finland’s president discreetly called in to a radio nature show to ask about parsnips

Niinisto, at left, is an unsung hero in the war against invasive wild parsnips.
Niinisto, at left, is an unsung hero in the war against invasive wild parsnips.
Image: EPA/Mauri Ratilainen
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Finnish president Sauli Niinistö’s country is an economic mess, but he has carved out time in his schedule to look into another matter: the spread of wild parsnips near Naantali, a town on the country’s southwest coast where his summer home is located.

Niinistö and his wife made several phone calls each to a Finnish public radio station last night (July 22) during the live broadcast of Luontoilta (“Nature Evening”), according to the Nyt news site. His wife, Jenni Haukio, was eventually connected to the station, and she handed the phone to her husband (link in Finnish).

Juha Blomberg, the host of the show, said he was surprised when operators relayed the name of his call-in guest. But Niinistö, who was introduced as “Sauli from Naantali” on air, made no mention of his political position. Politicians in Finland, known for its radical egalitarianism, are generally not treated much differently than ordinary citizens.

Blomberg, joined by several botanical experts on the show, had to suppress giggles during Niinistö’s call-in. But the Finnish president may have good reason to be concerned: Wild parsnips are classified as an invasive species, which exude “a clear watery sap that sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet radiation which can result in severe burns.”

In addition to the parsnip issue, Niinistö asked about the wildflower sneezewort and waxed rhapsodic about the qualities of the butterfly orchid: “In the evening, when you go out for a walk, you don’t even need to use your eyes, you can just smell them in the summer air,” he said, according to the YLE Uutiset TV station. “They’re incredibly beautiful.”

He added: “It’s amazing sometimes when you see, say, a loosestrife growing next to some meadowsweet, to think that they’re both growing from the same soil, drinking the same water. So how can they end up so different? … Nature is indeed wonderful.”