Invasive plant can cause severe burns, blindness


Invasive and aggressive, the plant starves off surrounding plant life by depriving it of sunshine.

"It definitely warrants a discussion, to say the least", said Emma, of Berryville, Va.

The giant hogweed is considered an early-detection invasive plant in Virginia because it is not yet established in the commonwealth.

"Don't touch it", he said. Okay, no judgment, but if you're not careful, there is a weed that can burn you!

Giant hogweed's greatest danger is the effect its sap has on humans.

The unsafe Giant Hogweed recently identified in Virginia was "planted intentionally", according to the Virginia Tech researchers who helped identify the plant.

"Now that there's a confirmed sighting, we need to be on the lookout", said Ken Slack, a VDOT spokesman.

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Though common in NY state, which has spent millions fighting the plant, and elsewhere in the Northeast, the giant hogweeds in Berryville and Frederick County are the plant's first known locations in Virginia. It appears they were planted as ornamentals by a now-deceased landowner in the 1970s.

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. If the Virginia Cooperative Extension confirms it is hogweed, you are urged to report it to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Giant hogweeds have also been known to plague Washington and Oregon.

But why would anyone plant it? "It would taste good on chicken", she said.

Giant hogweed is grown in the wild.

Some jurisdictions aren't taking any chances, sounding alarms about the effects of exposure.

The large plant's sap contains chemicals called furanocoumarins, which make a person's skin more sensitive to sunlight. "Symptoms include painful blisters, which become darkly pigmented and can cause scars". Furthermore, there are no documented incidents of the hogweed causing permanent blindness, though its capacity to do so is generally undisputed.

Hogweed sap requires a partner in crime - photons.