In The News: Toxic Weed Can Cause Blistering and Blindness

J.PattonA toxic weed is in full bloom this month, and experts are warning to steer clear as the plant pops up all over the United States, and the war on the weed rages on.

The weed, known as giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family from the Caucasus Mountain region between the Black and Caspian seas. Luckily, this plant can't be hard to miss. It can grow as tall as a tree (up to 15 feet), and it has large leaves that can grow up to 5 feet wide. White flowers bloom on the plant later on in its lifespan, and they span up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter. Giant hogweed usually grows in wet areas, and it can take over ravines and stream banks rapidly.

This monstrous weed can harm those who come into contact with its sap.
Photo by debs-eye/Courtesy

The plant typically lives five to seven years. It tends to die down during the fall, but the dead stem still marks its presence into the winter months. It can produce between 20,000 to 100,000 seeds in its lifetime, which are typically transported by birds and waterways, and remain viable for up to 10 years.

It is illegal to import giant hogweed into the United States. However, this wasn't always the case. That's why this poisonous plant is digging its roots into the soils of the following states:

• New York
• Pennsylvania
• Ohio
• Maryland
• Oregon
• Washington
• Michigan
• Virginia
• Vermont
• New Hamphire
• Maine

Giant hogweed looks similar to cow parsnip, but don’t let its disguise fool you into thinking it’s safe to remove it yourself. The plant, which is federally listed as a noxious weed, produces a clear, toxic sap when it’s exposed to the sunlight. If you get the sap on your skin, it can cause skin irritation, painful blistering and even permanent scarring. And that’s not all—if the sap comes into contact with your eye, it can cause blindness. If you think you’ve been burned by giant hogweed, wash the skin thoroughly, protect the area from sunlight, and see your doctor as soon as possible.

If you come across giant hogweed, don’t brush up against the bristles on the stem, or break the stem or the leaves. Instead, contact your state or local department of invasive species control so proper removal procedures can be taken.