Lookout: Giant hogweed could be headed our way

Lookout: Giant hogweed could be headed our way

The plant, a giant hogweed, was introduced to the United Kingdom and Europe in the late nineteenth century and to the U.S. in the early 20century, and its potential threat to people is the subject of research by Virginia Tech's Jennifer Gagnon. The plant - native to the Caucasus - region looks rather benign, however, it's anything but.

Sap of the Giant hogweed contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitizing furanocoumarins.

Davis said that protective gear should be used before coming into contact with giant hogweed. The light-sensitive skin reaction causes dark painful blisters that form within 48 hours, and result in scars that can last anywhere from a few months to six years. "When [furanocoumarins] come into contact with the skin, and in the presence of sunlight, they cause a condition called phyto-photodermatitis: a reddening of the skin, often followed by severe burns and blistering", according to Great Britain's GB Non-native Species Secretariat (hogweed is a huge problem in the U.K.).

The plant, which is in the carrot family, cannot only pose a threat to your skin, but it can also impact the environment.

For more on giant hogweed control, click through to the NYDEC site.

"In some cases, a giant hogweed infestation is best controlled using several different methods in combination or in succession - in other words, a two, three, or even four-pronged attack plan", the New York Department of Environmental Conservation reported. The invasive plant arrived in North America in the mid-19th century.

The photos posted at bottom of this story depicting burns from giant hogweed are graphic in nature.

Giant hogweed and cow parsnip have "similar flowers and leaves" and cow parsnip's "sap can cause [a] reaction, but usually it is not as bad as hogweed", he added. A toxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact. Apply sunscreen to the affected areas. A towel or compress soaked in aluminum acetate, which you can purchase from pharmacies, provides temporary relief for skin irritations. If it gets into an eye, it can even cause blindness. And if you may have been exposed to the sap, stay out of the sun and see a doctor if you experience a reaction.

Besides being incredibly risky, the giant hogweed is also very resilient.

Don't remove giant hogweed by using a weed eater or brush cutter because this may "splatter" the sap and release seeds, which could promote new growth. Then, you should wash the exposed area with soap and water.

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