According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the giant hogweed plant, which is native to a region in Asia was introduced into the USA in the 1900s.
If you have heard of it before, then you are right to stay alert because sap from the plant has been known to cause skin burns, and in some cases permanent blindness.
Today, this invasive species is known to grow in parts of Oregon, New York, Washington, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Having been listed as a noxious weed by the government, giant hogweed is now illegal to transport without a permit.
It has recently been spotted in Virginia where 30 plants were found in Clarke County.
What Exactly Can This Flowering Plant Do to You?
Apart from affecting your environment, giant hogweed will also affect your health.
This plant produces a toxic sap full of organic chemicals that cause blistering burns that lead to long-lasting scars. The sap can also cause permanent blindness.
When it burns the skin, the area tends to be extra sensitive to UV rays, often causing irritation and blisters. To break it down, giant hogweed sap leaves your skin extremely sensitive to sunlight, and when the skin has no protection from harsh UV Rays, even a little sunlight can cause the affected area to have severe burns that harm both the outer and inner layers of the skin.
How Long Do The Effects of Giant Hogweed Last?
When exposed to the sap, usually just by brushing onto the plant or breaking off one of its branches, you will start to feel irritation fifteen minutes later.
The second stage occurs after about 48 hours and painful blisters form on the affected area. They then scab over after pigmentation. It takes weeks just to heal from the burns, but the scars the giant hogweed sap leaves last months, even years.
The sap will burn your cornea if it gets into your eye and causes you to go blind.
What Should You Do?
There is only one thing to do; avoid touching the hogweed. Even the name should tell you to stay off, but the most important thing is to know how to identify it. If you live in areas where it is known to grow or are visiting these areas, then stay alert.
The hogweed does not discriminate; it will grow to be 14 feet tall in the forest, in the field, and it will still be the same height standing on the roadside or even in the backyard. When I say it can grow anywhere, I mean the riverside, the everyday hiking trail, the garden, you name it.
Before it matures, which takes a few years, this plant can be hard to identify because it does not yet have flowers at that stage. As it grows, however, its leaves can get up to 5 feet wide, and its flowers spreading as wide as two and a half feet.
You have to know what it looks like if you are going to avoid it. As mentioned, it stands tall and has white flowers clustered in an umbrella-like shape and lobed leaves. The plant is not always easy to spot and can be confused with other harmless plants like the wild carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace). The giant hogweed, however, has purplish red spots on its stem, and this is where the sap is mostly stored. Even the flowers and the leaves can affect your skin, so do not touch the plant at all.
What if You Touch the Plant?
If you have to touch it to remove it, make sure you wear gloves and cover any skin that may be exposed to the sap, including your eyes. After you are done, wash everything you used well to get rid of any sap.
If the sap touches your skin, quickly wash the area with cold water and make sure not to go out into the sun. You are a vampire now, so sit down and call the doctor for help.
The same goes for your eyes; wash them immediately and put on sunglasses. Make sure to call your physician if exposed for further advice on how to handle the burns and the treatment process.
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