Lookout: Giant hogweed could be headed our way

Lookout: Giant hogweed could be headed our way

If you think you may have crossed paths with giant hogweed, do your fellow hikers a solid and make sure to report it as an invasive species to your local government ASAP. It's also reportable to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

If you encounter the plant, don't touch it.

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is technically a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family.

Until recently, there have been no confirmed cased of the Giant Hogweed in the Commonwealth. What's worse, if it reaches the eyes it can cause permanent blindness.

Giant hogweed originates from the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian seas by Russian Federation - but it made its way to the U.S.by the early 20th century.

A giant hogweed stem.

CBS News reported that the giant hogweed can be found in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Virginia is now one of the few states in the USA where the plant has been found, and it can grow over 14 feet tall with large white flower clusters that can reach 2 and a half feet in diameter.

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Massive leaves can stretch 5 feet across.

The leaves can be up to five feet across and the stem, which contains a toxic sap, is hollow and rigid, and has purple blotches and coarse white hairs near its base. "Sounds like they actually planted it about 30 or 40 years ago as a decorative species, but nobody knew they were there until just now".

A number of plants are often confused with giant hogweed, including cow parsnip, angelica, Queen Anne's lace, wild parsnip, and poison hemlock.

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

"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. Instead, you should very carefully pull the plant out by its roots or use herbicides to kill the plant.

When the plant spread across New York in the past, The New York State Department of Health recommended that anyone who came in contact with the plant wash it off with cold water immediately and get out of the sun.

Other tips include using topical steroids to ease discomfort. The light-sensitive skin reaction causes dark painful blisters that form within 48 hours, and result in scars that can last anywhere from a few months to six years.

In general, the Department of Environmental Conservation recommends contacting it (or the corresponding department in your state) for professional removal.

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