This Huge Plant Can Cause Burns, Blindness

Jul 24, 2017

 

DEC's Alexander Wyatt surveys the land in search of Giant Hogweed. He and his partner are clearing plants in Candor, NY.
Credit Sarah Gager / WSKG News

 

Giant Hogweed is an invasive plant that can be dangerous to your health and the environment. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has a hotline to call if you think you see the plant. The state even has a Giant Hogweed Control Crew.

 

All equipment the crew uses in a clean-up must be washed with soap and water to ensure there's no sap still on it. The sap is water soluble.
Credit Sarah Gager / WSKG News

Alexander Wyatt is on the crew. On a recent trip to Candor, NY, he and a partner cleared younger, smaller plants from a residence. Because of the exposure risks, they took significant precautions, like wearing tall boots and heavy duty rubber gloves, and washing off all their equipment (even the shovels) after they finished.

Wyatt and his coworkers don’t want any of the sap from the plant to touch their skin.

"If you get the sap on you and you’re exposed to sunlight for at least 15 minutes, up to 2 hours, it can cause severe burns," Wyatt warned. "If you get it in your eyes, it can cause blindness."

For years after the initial burn, the affected area can flare up if exposed to sun.

Aside from the health hazard, Wyatt said the invasive plant is so big it blocks other plants from getting sun.

"It shades out other plants that would grow underneath it, and the roots systems aren't that large," Wyatt explained. "The root systems don’t hold the soil, so it causes erosion and it reduces native vegetation, which can reduce wildlife populations."

One of the juvenile plants the crew is clearing. The stems have purple blotches and coarse white hairs.
Credit Sarah Gager / WSKG News

Giant Hogweed looks similar to some other plants seen growing in the region. Before it starts flowering, the stem is a good identifier. It’s a thick green stem with purple blotches and coarse white hairs. 

Once it starts flowering, it’s huge.

"It’s like 8 feet tall ... so it’s pretty distinctive," Wyatt joked. It can get even bigger. The white flower heads grow in an umbrella shape and can be 2 and a half feet across. 

The adult plants are the highest priority for the control crews, because adult plants can spread their seeds far and wide after they flower. Giant hogweed flowers between late-June and mid-July.

Wyatt pointed to the DEC's do-it-yourself guide for residents, but he doesn’t recommend anyone trying to control it on their own. The number for the Giant Hogweed Hotline - along with pictures - are available at the DEC’s website.