Summer’s here, so it’s time to watch out for the giant hogweed plant, a dangerous invasive species that can cause burns and blindness. Yahoo News posted a brief reminder Thursday that the supersized weed may look like an impressive stand of Queen Anne’s lace. But if you touch the up-to-23-foot tall giant, you may suffer from long-lasting sensitivity to sunburn.
A chemical in the giant hogweed plant called furocoumarin can cause blisters, long-lasting scars, three-years long sensitivity to sunlight on the skin, or even blindness. You do not want to get this stuff in your eyes, people.
Yahoo described it as an “innocent-looking” plant. I don’t know about that. A stand of weeds four times my height doesn’t exactly strike me as innocent.
But if for some reason you are hacking your way through something like that, you need to be covered up and aware of what you’re doing. It has spread out from Central Asia across the world, including England, the northeastern United States, northern midwestern states like Michigan, and even the Pacific northwest.
If you think you’ve come in contact with it, wash with soap and water, and don’t expose the area to sunlight for a full 48 hours. Wash out your eyes with water, and wear sunglasses. And see your doctor as soon as possible.
There’s a delayed reaction, somewhat like poison ivy, so you have time to clean off before it makes the semi-permanent changes in your skin.
An ABC report from a 2011 summer warning said that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) considered the giant hogweed plant a serious and major target.
However, it’s also a beatable target when tackled by professionals. On Wednesday, a report in the South Bend Tribune said that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced that giant hogweed had been largely eradicated at four sites in two counties, thanks to an aggressive program of spraying.
Here’s a video about how to identify the giant hogweed plant:
Here is a discussion of serious symptoms caused by the giant hogweed plant:
Personally, I don’t think nonbotanists would have an easy time of it trying to distinguish the giant hogweed from Queen Anne’s lace and other similar plants.
I recommend wearing eye protection when hiking through heavily overgrown vegetation. And be sure to report it to local wildlife officials if you spot any giant hogweed plants growing in your area.
[giant hogweed plant photo by Natubico via Wikimedia]