Giant hogweed plant that causes 3rd-degree burns spreads to Virginia

Giant hogweed which has a sap that can cause blisters and even blindness has been reported in Virginia

If Hollywood wanted to make a movie about a horrifying plant invasion, giant hogweeds would make a great candidate for the lead role - they are absolutely massive, incredibly toxic, and readily spread wherever their seeds take root. The US Department of Agriculture's website shows it has also been found in MI and IL. So if you call any of those locations home (or a vacation destination), it can't hurt to commit a few distinguishing features of the plant to memory.

The plant species, which belongs to the carrot family, not just poses a threat to the skin but also impacts the environment.

Of course, going anywhere near a giant hogweed requires protective gear.

Although it may sound like a monster from a classic B-movie, giant hogweed is very real and it's also more than a little bit unsafe. This is the first reported sighting of giant hogweed in Virginia, following past discoveries in NY and the Pacific Northwest. What's more, during winter months, the soil under the giant hogweed becomes bare and erodes more readily.

But unless you're familiar with its nasty secret, you might think the giant hogweed looks cool - these large plants can grow more than 4 metres (14 feet) tall, spreading their huge leaves and producing massive umbrella-shaped clusters of white flowers. The stem will be hollow and rigid, and even have purple blotches and coarse white hairs near the base of the plant. Seeds can grow for 10 years once they're dropped off. Second, while the giant hogweed's leaves will be about five feet wide and incised, the leaves of its harmless doppelgänger are about half as wide.

"Giant hogweed reproduces by seed and spreads by seed dispersal, which can be aided by wind, water, people, and animals", Davis said.

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The residents of Virginia are warned to not use a weed whacker, lawn mower or a chainsaw in order to remove it, as this can result in the sap getting scattered.

There are specific procedures to ensure the plants are killed and certain herbicides legal for use by a licensed pesticide applicator.

If you accidentally come in contact with sap from the giant hogweed plant, doctors recommend that you wash it off immediately with cold water. "The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact".

If a reaction occurs, topical steroids applied early can reduce its severity and ease discomfort.

In general, the NY DEC recommends contacting them (or your state DEC outside of New York) for professional removal.

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