An Invasive Plant That Causes Third-Degree Burns And Even Blindness Has Been Found In Virginia

Gavin EdmondstoneFlickr

An invasive plant that emits a toxic sap that, when exposed to sunlight, can cause third-degree burns and even blindness, has been found in northern Virginia, Fox News is reporting.

Giant Hogweed, or Heracleum mantegazzianum, is native to central Asia but began showing up in European gardens as an ornamental plant, and has since spread across Europe and to Canada and the United States.

Though beautiful, the plant can be deadly. That’s because it emits a sap that is phototoxic – that is, it reacts to sunlight. In essence, it stops your body’s natural defense against harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun, causing, at the very least, a terrible sunburn.

However, in severe cases, such as in cases of prolonged exposure to sunlight after exposure to the sap, it can cause third-degree burns, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. What’s worse, if it reaches the eyes it can cause permanent blindness.

“Heat and moisture (sweat or dew) can worsen the skin reaction. The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact.”

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. Then, you should wash the exposed area with soap and water.

Despite containment and eradication efforts, the deadly plant has now turned up in Virginia, according to a Facebook post from the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech. Specifically, about 30 specimens of the plant were found.

“There have been reports from VDOT of sightings of Giant Hogweed in the Staunton area and Middlesex County. There is a strong possibility that the Giant Hogweed could find its way into the Tidewater/Coastal Virginia area.”

The plant can grow up to 14 feet high (hence the word “Giant” in its name) and have stems that are two to four inches in diameter. Because the plant can grow so tall, the shade can block out the sunlight reaching native plants, causing environmental damage.

If you notice the plant, say authorities, don’t use a lawn mower, weed whacker, or chainsaw to remove it, as those methods can cause the sap to splatter. Instead, use an herbicide or, better yet, use a backhoe to dig it up.

What’s more, just because you’ve removed the plant doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve won the battle. Its seeds can lie dormant in the soil for over a decade, so continue to monitor the site for more growth.