Giant Hogweed Can Cause Third-Degree Burns
This plant has dangerous sap and is popping up in more and more areas around the country. Clark County in Washington is the latest place to identify the presence of giant hogweed.
Most wildflowers, although considered weeds, are beautiful and provide a food source for pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. That being said, not all wildflowers are human-friendly. After last year’s story about the Virginia teen with second- and third-degree burns from giant hogweed, people are on high alert again this summer.
Giant hogweed is a noxious weed that grows along bodies of water and in open prairie areas. It looks like a larger version of harmless Queen Anne’s lace, with lobed leaves and clusters of small, white blooms in summer. And, although it looks like a pretty wildflower, this invasive plant can be extremely dangerous.
This plant’s sap can cause third-degree burns and even permanent blindness just from brushing up against it, and the effects are worse with sun exposure. Giant hogweed is considered invasive and spreads rapidly. Besides immediate effects like burning and blistering, the clear sap of this plant also contains carcinogenic and teratogenic chemicals, which can cause cancer and birth defects.
Virginia isn’t the only state that has positively identified the presence of this dangerous plant. Giant hogweed has been reported in over 80 U.S. counties across 15 states, and in many areas of Canada. It was most recently reported in Clark County, Washington, a southern county near the Oregon border.
Many of the affected areas have active projects to control and eradicate the weed but run into issues with its presence on private property. Because they cannot access these areas without permission, officials are asking for public awareness and aid in getting rid of giant hogweed.
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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has set up a Hogweed Hotline to encourage people to report the presence of giant hogweed and will send DEC officials to confirm the plant’s identity and eradicate it. Clark County Vegetation Management in Washington is asking private landowners to report sightings and email photos to Clark County Public Works for identification.
It’s recommended that you allow professionals to remove giant hogweed instead of trying to get rid of it yourself. The sap is clear, so it can be hard to know if it’s on your skin until you get the severe effects from exposure to sunlight. There are 20,000 to 100,000 seeds on one giant hogweed plant, which is why it can spread quickly. You need to be extremely careful when removing giant hogweed to prevent any seeds from falling—otherwise, new plants will soon sprout. Leaving it to the professionals is the best practice.
If you come in contact with giant hogweed, wash your skin with soap and cold water and keep the area protected from sun exposure for 48 areas. If sap gets in your eyes, rinse them with water and wear sunglasses to avoid sun exposure. Apply sunscreen to the area—your skin may be more sensitive to sunlight, and that sensitivity can actually last years. Contact your doctor if you are having a severe reaction.