Giant Hogweed growing wild
Giant Hogweed plants -- real life Triffids? Image: helena.40proof/Flickr/CC BY-SA

The giant hogweed is a highly toxic plant that can cause third degree burns and blindness. It is making a comeback in New York, spreading at a remarkable rate. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation  (DEC) is very concerned about the invasion.

Not a new problem

The plant’s steady growth has made it a problem in many parts of the U.S. and abroad. It has been classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a “federal noxious weed.” It is considered an invasive species in several states, including Washington, Oregon and Pennsylvania. So notorious is the plant that it even spawned a song, “Return of the Giant Hogweed,” popularized by the band Genesis.

Day of the Triffids

Canadian writer Steph Willems has likened the invasive giant hogweed to Triffids, the giant, deadly plants that proliferate and prey on a world of blind people in John Wyndham’s 1951 novel “Day of the Triffids.”

Flourishing in New York

This season the plant is flourishing in New York state. It has been spotted at 944 sites, including spots in Long Island, Nassau County and Putnam County, according to officials. As of yet, there have been no sightings in New York City. Naja Kraus, the DEC’s Giant Hogweed Program coordinator, says, however, “Just because it hasn’t been reported doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

Sap a toxic irritant

The plant’s scientific name is heracleum mantegazzianum. It can grow more than 12 feet tall and produces large, umbrella-shaped flowers. The plant’s sap is a toxic irritant that, when combined with sunlight, can cause severe burns, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness. The plant is a native of the Caucasus Mountains area, between the Black and the Caspian Seas. It was first introduced to the United States in 1917 as an ornamental garden plant.

Garden expert Mike McGrath called the sap “One of the most irritating, if not the most irritating plant substance on the planet.” Calling the sap an irritant, he says, is “almost like saying a gunshot wound is a minor injury.”

Especially dangerous for children

The sap is released when the stalks of the plant are broken. The distinctive long limbs can be especially attractive to playing children. Kraus has reported hearing of children using the stems as telescopes, leading to severe burns around the eyes.

Should be dealt with by professionals

DEC officials warn homeowners to not attempt to remove the plant themselves. They can be splattered by the sap. Cutting the plant does little good because of its rapid growth. Residents who identify the plant are urged to contact authorities immediately to deal with its removal in a safe manner. The DEC Hogweed Hotline is 845-256-3111.

Sources

Huffiungton Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/giant-hogweed_n_891281.html
The Dailt Fairfield: http://www.thedailyfairfield.com/wellness/beware-giant-hogweed-fairfield-county
WTOP: http://www.wtop.com/?nid=884&sid=2448891
Invasive Plant Council of BC:
http://bit.ly/oOHMvo

Genesis ‘Return of the Giant Hogweed’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZSLcwGFyZRA

‘Day of the Triffids’ movie trailer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eCmqWDx5A4

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