Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a non-native, invasive plant that is particularly dangerous to humans. Part of the carrot family, it is an 8 to 14 foot flowering plant with leaves up to 5 feet across. This non-native invasive plant causes intense, painful burns, permanent scarring and in some cases blindness. The noxious plant’s sap contains photosensitizing furanocoumarins, which prevents skin from protecting itself from the sun’s harmful rays. The unfortunate individual that comes in contact with the plant can receive severe sunburns with agonizing blisters. The burns last weeks, and the scars can last years. Even after the scars have faded, the skin may remain hypersensitive to UV rays.
The plant, once considered ornamental, is now listed federally as a noxious weed. Illegal to propagate, buy, or sell the plant, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Hogweed Program has been successful in slowly managing the widespread problem. According to Commissioner Martens:
DEC is making great strides towards eradicating giant hogweed in New York, every property where giant hogweed can be removed increases biodiversity and helps to make outdoor areas safe for people to enjoy. It is important to raise public awareness to make sure that people know how to identify this plant, know not to touch it, know how to report it and know how to eradicate it.
If you believe you have spotted Giant Hogweed, DEC asks that you follow these steps:
- Use their Giant Hogweed Identification page to try and make a positive identification.
- Take photos of the plant as per their instructions and note the location.
- Email DEC at email@example.com or call the Giant Hogweed Hotline: 1 (845) 256-3111. Provide the above information as well as an estimate of the number of plants.
- If confirmed, DEC will likely contact you with management options. Funds allowing, control may be free of charge.
The weed is a major concern for road workers. Without the proper safety precautions they can easily become exposed. Cutting the stems by weed-whacker or highway mowers can spray the sap many feet creating a larger hazard. Private landowners are also at risk as they attempt to remove the plant, as are their domesticated pets that rub against it.
If you are concerned that you have come in contact with Giant Hogweed it is important to wash the area with soap and cold (warm may increase burns) water immediately. Keep the area out of direct sunlight for at least 48 hours. If a reaction does occur, see a physician. The earlier it is treated, the less severe the scarring and discomfort will be.
For more information, please visit the Giant Hogweed Program’s website.
Also visit our site PlantDontPlant.org for more information on invasive plants.