Giant hogweed - a dangerous, invasive weed - recently began spreading across New York, sparking fear and warnings from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. They say the plant can burn, scar, and even blind you - but what exactly is it and how can you avoid it? Keep clicking to get the scoop on this toxic plant...
What does giant hogweed look like?
Giant hogweed, or Heracleum mantegazzianum is considered a noxious weed by the federal government. It's part of the carrot family, but it can grow up to 14 feet tall. For a toxic plant, giant hogweed is surprisingly pretty, with thick leaves stretching five feet wide and large clusters of white flowers gracing the top of the plant in an umbrella pattern. Its stems (pictured at top left) are green with purple blotches and white hairs.
Where did giant hogweed come from?
Giant hogweed originates from the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian seas by Russia - but it made its way to the U.S. by the early 20th century.
How? Birds and waterways can carry seeds, which can grow up to 10 years once they're dropped off.
Where does giant hogweed grow?
According to the DEC, the toxic plant grows in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
How does giant hogweed hurt humans?
Giant hogweed sap contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitizing furanocoumarins. When these chemicals come into contact with the human skin, it can cause a skin reaction that's extremely sensitive to light.
What are the symptoms from giant hogweed exposure?
The light-sensitive skin reaction causes dark painful blisters that form within 48 hours, and result in scars that can last anywhere from a few months to six years. Touching giant hogweed can also cause long-term sunlight sensitivity, and blindness if sap gets into a person's eye.
What if I accidentally touch giant hogweed?
The N.Y. Department of Health recommends that you wash it off with cold water immediately and get out of the sun. A toxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact. Apply sunscreen to the affected areas since this can prevent further reactions if you're stuck outside. Compresses soaked in an aluminum acetate mixture - available at pharmacies - can provide relief for skin irritations. If hogweed sap gets into the eye, rinse them with water immediately and put on sunglasses.
Call a doctor if you're experiencing a severe reaction.
How can I get rid of giant hogweed?
If you live near giant hogweed you can mow or weed-whack the plant before you touch it to prevent future exposure, right? Think again. That will just send up new growth and potentially expose you to toxic sap. Call a professional or local authorities who can properly destroy the plant and its seeds.