For the past 2 weeks or so, Giant Hogweed has been blooming along my road in the ditch in front of my house.
I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to go out to the ditch and pull it up by its roots or chop it down – but to be honest with you I’m scared. That’s because Giant Hogweed can be dangerous if it is not handled carefully and I’m in no mood to court trouble. I think I’ll probably play it safe and just spray it instead.
Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a very large and noxious weed that can grow over 15’ tall and is sometimes known as wild parsnip, cartwheel-flower and giant cow parsnip.
It is a stately plant with large leaves, beautiful white flowers and a hollow stalk that originated in Asia and was brought to America in the early 20th century as an ornamental garden plant. It is a member of the Umbelliferae family of plants which include parsley, anise, Queen Anne’s lace, coriander, carrots, dill, fennel and hemlock. In fact Giant Hogweed has been called “Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids” because it looks a lot like Queen Anne’s Lace but only much, much bigger.
Giant Hogweed is a short lived perianal plant that loves moist soil and an open location. It will thrive in wet roadside ditches, along streams and river beds. It can be very hard to eradicate because the seeds can have a dormancy of 7 years and one plant can produce thousands of seeds.
The trouble with Giant Hogweed is the sap- it’s phototoxic. A very small amount of sap on the skin, in combination with sunlight and heat, can cause severe burns, blisters and redness. In fact skin reactions are often so severe that hospitalization may be required. Large purple scarring is common and often the skin will need to be protected from sunlight for 3 or 4 years after exposure. The sap from Giant Hogweed is so toxic that even a tiny amount in the eyes can result in temporary or possibly permanent blindness. The usual way that sap from Giant Hogweed makes contact with the skin is by brushing up against the stem or breaking the stem or leaves.
In the event of accidental contact with Giant Hogweed, wash the affect area with soap and water and keep out of all sunlight for 48 hours. If you begin to develop blisters you need to contact a physician right away.