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

Laverne Higgins
June 20, 2018

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture added giant hogweed to the Pennsylvania Noxious Weed Control List in 2000.

"If you come into contact with giant hogweed: Skin reactions vary, but phytophotodermatitis can occur, meaning the sap makes the skin so sensitive to sunlight that sever burns can occur from normal exposure to sun".

The plant grows in the wild and touching it can cause third-degree burns and even blindness.

If you come across the plant, you are urged to report it to the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

In addition to Pennsylvania, giant hogweed can be found in New York, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and ME, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. Here are handy tips to help you identify giant hogweed.

Blindness can occur if the sap manages to get into the eyes. 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.

If you experience severe reactions, visit a doctor immediately.

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The giant hogweed plant is originally from the Caucasus region, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea where Europe and Asia meet. In the early 20th century, the herb was introduced to the USA as an ornamental garden plant - the impressively-sized plant's white flower heads can reach two and a half feet in diameter. According to the Massey Herbarium, there were about 30 plants found at the site.

The plant, which is in the carrot family, cannot only pose a threat to your skin, but it can also impact the environment.

Don't be fooled by it's interesting appearance, a large stalk with huge leaves and umbrella-shaped clusters of white flowers, this noxious weed is extremely risky, and can cause 3rd degree burns.

Green stems are splotched with purple and have coarse white hairs, which carry the plant's risky sap.

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

Authorities say that if you are exposed to the sap, your first goal should be to get out of the sunlight and into shade, immediately if not sooner. Topical steroids can reduce the severity of the burns.

"Do not mow, cut or weed whack the plant, as it will just send up new growth and put you at risk for being exposed to sap - the same kind of thing that would happen with poison ivy or sumac", the NY advisory said.

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