Are you planning to spend time outside this summer? Great! You already know you need to watch out for ticks and mosquitoes. But now officials are adding another item to the growling list of things to avoid while outdoors this summer. It is called the giant hogweed plant, and it is not something to take lightly. Just touching (even brushing past this plant) can result in serious symptoms – including third-degree burns and permanent blindness.
If you read that last sentence and are feeling a bit shocked, you’re not alone. To think that a plant out there can cause you to turn blind just by touching it sounds like a something out of the mind of a great science fiction writer or something. But the giant hogweed is a plant that you must avoid at all costs. It is real, and it is spreading to new parts of America due to climate change.
In a Facebook post from the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, thirty giant hogweed plants were identified in Clarke County.
These plants are dangerous because of their toxic sap. If the sap gets onto your skin or into your eyes, and then you are exposed to sunlight, you can suffer severe burns that might leave you scared for the remainder of your life.
“In brief, the sap prevents your skin from protecting itself from sunlight, which leads to a very bad sunburn,” according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. “Heat and moisture (sweat or dew) can worsen the skin reaction. The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact.”
How does it work? When the toxic sap touches your skin, it interacts with sunlight to cause painful blisters. It will make your skin “dark and pigmented” and result in scars that last six years.
While touching the plant is dangerous, if you touch it and then get the sap into your eyes, you may never see again. If this doesn’t make you watch where you step when you’re taking a hike, nothing will.
One giant hogweed poisoning has been identified in Clarke County, Virginia already this year. That’s why Virginia officials are issuing a dire warning to other residents to stay away from this plant.
“There have been reports from VDOT of sightings of Giant Hogweed in the Staunton area and Middlesex County,” Isle of Wight County posted to Facebook. “There is a strong possibility that the Giant Hogweed could find its way into the Tidewater/Coastal Virginia area.”
Like many undesirable things, they can be hard to kill or eradicate.
“It may be possible for hogweed seeds to remain viable in the soil for 15 years,” the agency said. “For this reason, long-term monitoring is very important. Check the site and surrounding areas for the next several years for the emergence of any hogweed seedlings or regrowth from previous year’s plants.”
Giant hogweed plants grow as tall as 14 feet and have hollow stems as thick as two to four inches.