Residents in Virginia are being warned by environmental officials to be on the lookout and avoid an invasive plant after it was recently found in the northern part of the state. The toxic plant, aptly known as the giant hogweed, which is natively from Asia was introduced to North America in the 20th century and can cause third-degree burns and permanent blindness.
In a Facebook post, the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech said that they discovered about 30 giant hogweed plants in Clarke County, between Winchester and Leesburg. And urged residents to immediately report any sightings to extension agents immediately.
The toxic plant was originally imported from Asia with the intention that it would serve as a decorative plant, but it quickly became more than what it was intended to be and proved itself as something not destined for the flower vase as it began to crowd out surrounding plant life, quickly outcompeting them from sunlight and nutrient. The plant likes to grow in specific areas like open woodlands or along rivers and streams.
The plant has a very attractive appearance, little wonder it was being considered to be used for the ornamental purpose. However, anyone who makes a mistake of touching it might find more thorns than roses in this beautiful plant as it contains a clear watery sap which contains a toxin known as Furocoumarin in its leaves, stems, roots, flowers and even in its seed.
Furocoumarin, when exposed to moisture and sunlight irritates and burns the skin, causing painful blisters that can hurt for days and can cause permanent scars in some cases.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the sap reduces the skin’s ability to protect itself from sunlight which can lead to a very bad case of sunburn. The NYDEC stated that Heat and moisture in form of seat and dew and worsen the skin’s reaction to the plant’s sap. And the reaction can begin as early as 15 minutes after making contact direct contact with the plant sap with sensitivity peaking between 30 minutes and lasting up to 2 hours after contact has been made.
Many people also theorize that the plant sap can also cause permanent blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.
You should be on the lookout for the noxious plant which has a stout, bright green stem. The stem is usually spotted with dark red. The leaf stalks are typically hollow and red spotted with sturdy bristles. The stems have been known to grow as long as 2 meters in height and can be from 3-8 centimeters across.
Like most toxic plants, the giant hogweed is surprisingly pretty and attractive with its thick leaves stretching as much as five feet wide. The plant also has large clusters of white flowers forming an umbrella pattern at the top of the plant.
A member of the carrot family of all things, the giant hogweed, part of typically lives up to 3 to 5 years and has the capacity to become a dominant plant in an area as each plant has the capacity to release as much as 120,000 seeds which are transported over long distances in water and wind. The NYDEC describe categorizes the plant as a potential health hazard as its sap can cause painful blisters that can form and become “dark and pigmented,” and scars that can last up to six years.