photos courtesy of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation
Its sap can cause severe eye irritation, serious skin rashes, and even blindness––this is certainly a plant to know and avoid at all costs.
Giant Hogweed, or Heracleum mantegazzianum, is a perennial of the carrot family and has recently been increasingly sited in New York state. There are also reports of findings throughout New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, and the Northwest, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
This federally listed noxious weed arrived in the United States as an ornamental garden plant in the early 20th century, but now it is thriving in the wild. The federal classification makes it illegal for Giant Hogweed to be imported, exported, or transported across state lines in the United States unless a permit is obtained.
Donna Ellis, the Senior Extension Educator at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, explained that Eurasian gardeners loved to feature Giant Hogweed in their gardens in the 1900s. Eventually, the plant made its way to the States.
“They would share the seeds and share the plants over 100 years ago,” Ellis said in an interview. “They were introduced as a plant of interest.”
Ellis describes Giant Hogweed as a plant with low growing leaves that can reach up to 15 feet in height. Some may mistake it for wild lettuce, Queen Anne’s Lace, Cow Parsnip, or Common Elderberry.
“It’s like a Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids,” said Ellis.
She explained that the plant has deeply cut jagged leaves and flowering stalks about four inches in diameter. White flowering heads that aid in Hogweed’s identification become more prominent when the plant is full grown.
Herbicides can be applied as an effective control method; however, being a perennial, Giant Hogweed is more difficult to completely eradicate. This plant can also be dug out when it is young to prevent its growth and spread.
“People can control it,” Ellis reassured.
“Giant Hogweed is a public health hazard that ranks up there higher than poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac in respect to its potential to harm humans.”
In her research and projects involved with Giant Hogweed, Ellis has observed the most Giant Hogweed in the western area of Connecticut, mostly because of the larger population of the plant in New York. Ellis is also aware of many sited in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Patrick Cocchiarella, a 2011 Delaware Valley College graduate of plant science and biotechnology, is familiar with this treacherous plant.
“It’s very dangerous for kids out playing in the woods,” said Cocchiarella in an interview.
Cocchiarella warns that Giant Hogweed’s sap may can cause blindness and photosensitive dermatitis, a medical term for when the contacted area blisters when exposed to sunlight. He suggests seeking a physician immediately upon contact with Giant Hogweed.
“Get medical attention as soon as possible,” said Cocchiarella.
Ellis advises to quickly wash the contacted areas of the body with soap and water and changing clothing to prevent sap reaching other people and surfaces before seeing the physician.
For those unfamiliar with plants in general, it is very important to be able to recognize this particular weed.
“If you’re going to know one plant out there, this should be the one,” warned Cocciarella.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Michigan states on their website that “Giant Hogweed is a public health hazard that ranks up there higher than poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac in respect to its potential to harm humans.”