May we introduce you to the Giant Hogweed, an obnoxious (and noxious) weed in the US that can cause painful blisters, permanent scarring, third-degree burns, and in some cases, blindness.
And you thought Australia was a dangerous place to live!
Giant Hogweed is generally found in Europe and the United States, but the US has been on high alert lately with the recent confirmation of Giant Hogweed growing for the first time in Virginia. Up until June, Giant Hogweed was only known to grow in a dozen or so states.
— Invasive Species Ctr (@InvSp) June 25, 2018
So far Giant Hogweed — which looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace — has been confirmed growing in three separate counties of Virgina, with each property owner admitting to mistakenly planting Giant Hogweed seeds thinking they were Angelica seeds, the sweet-smelling herb used in many different homemade medicinal remedies.
“We’ve been getting calls and emails with parents afraid to let their children outside,” Elaine Lidholm, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Agriculture, told Wired.
Giant Hogweed can grow up to 14 feet tall when flowering and contains small white clustered flowers that spread up to 2.5 inches, resembling an umbrella.
If you see anything that looks similar, don’t touch.
Today I helped ID VA’s first giant hogweed population! Its sap causes severe burns. One plant was found in Clarke County. Report sightings to your extension agent! ID help: https://t.co/VMkYqyaccB Thanks to @herbariumkeeper and @VTAgWeeds for ID help and report! pic.twitter.com/4BM9RhyMem
— VT Massey Herbarium (@MasseyHerbarium) June 12, 2018
The Giant Hogweed is phototoxic, meaning that if you touch this weed and then expose your skin to sunlight or ultraviolet rays, you can suffer from phytophotodermatitis (extreme burning and blistering of the skin). And the more time you spend in the sun after exposure to Giant Hogweed, the more extreme your symptoms.
In fact, Giant Hogweed is so potent that it can damage skin cells to the point of second- and third-degree burns. Trust me when I say you should not Google ‘Giant Hogweed burns’.
Forget about getting this weed’s sap in your eyes, too. It can also cause temporary or permanent blindness, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
If you do happen to find this weed while out on a hike, keep away. If you do happen to brush up against it, experts say to immediately wash the exposed areas with soap and cold water, and making sure to keep skin out of the sunlight. Checking in with your local GP should be the next step.
While Giant Hogweed hasn’t naturalised in Australia, there were reports of it growing near Devonport, Tasmania, but the government’s Department of Park Industries has since confirmed the weed to have been eradicated.
If you do happen to stumble upon the nightmarish Giant Hogweed or any other toxic weed, report it on the government’s biosecurity concern form. And for the love of all that is holy, do not get out the weed whacker — highly toxic sap flying around the place doesn’t sound like much fun.