Toxic Giant Hogweed Plant Has Spread to Virginia

Hogweed warning sign in Canada

"In some cases, a giant hogweed infestation is best controlled using several different methods in combination or in succession - in other words, a two, three, or even four-pronged attack plan", explains the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC).

If you live near a giant hogweed, don't try to mow or weed-whack the plant.

To learn about the identification of giant hogweed and compare it to common look-alikes, check out the NYDEC site here.

While giant hogweed was often originally planted for ornamental reasons, it can spread if soil containing plant or seeds gets moved or if seeds are carried by wind or a person or animal to a new location.

"Once you get the sap on your skin, and you are exposed to the sunlight, the chemical is activated [and] it can cause a severe burn", Massey Herbarium curator Jordan Metzgar told ABC News. In the early 20th century, the herb was introduced to the United States as an ornamental garden plant - the impressively-sized plant's white flower heads can reach two and a half feet in diameter.

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There have been no other reports of giant hogweed in Clarke County, but people should be on the lookout and call the Virginia Cooperative Extension or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to report a possible sighting, Sutphin said.

The Giant Hogweed could find its way into the Tidewater and Coastal Virginia area, the county said. The spray of white flowers looks similar to Queen Anne's Lace, but the experts at Massey Herbarium note that giant hogweed is much larger, with chunkier leaves.

Any who discovers the weed is advised not to touch it.

The unsafe plant also grows in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. "The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact". This will cause the plant's sap to splatter and spread quickly.

The New York State Department of Health also recommends applying sunscreen to the affected areas, since this can prevent further reactions if you're stuck outside. Seeds can grow for 10 years once they're dropped off. If you must touch giant hogweed, wear disposable rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and trousers. If hogweed sap gets into the eye, rinse with water immediately and put on sunglasses. This will only promote more growth and potentially expose you to the toxic chemicals.

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