November 13, 2018

Toxic plant found in Virginia, causes burns, blindess

21 June 2018, 10:30 | Ross Houston

Giant hogweed which has a sap that can cause blisters and even blindness has been reported in Virginia

Giant hogweed which has a sap that can cause blisters and even blindness has been reported in Virginia

However, there have been reports from VDOT of sightings of Giant Hogweed in the Staunton area and Middlesex County. The USDA website shows it has also been found in MI and IL. So if you call any of those locations home (or a vacation destination), it can't hurt to commit a few distinguishing features of the plant to memory.

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

The giant hogweed poses a serious human health hazard because it exudes a clear watery sap containing photosensitizing agents.

These plants had previously been found growing in other states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England - including in New York, Pennsylvania, and MA - and in the Pacific Northwest in OR and Washington. If sap gets in the eyes, it can cause nerve damage and possibly permanent blindness.

Giant hogweed, which is native to central Asia, likes to grow along riverbanks and can grow larger than a person.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) identification guide, the plant tends to be between seven and 14 feet tall, with clusters of 50 to 150 flowers that spread as far as two and half feet across.

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Massive leaves can stretch 5 feet across. The stem of the plant reportedly has characteristic raised spots of red and dark purple color along with bristle-like hairs. Seeds can grow for 10 years once they're dropped off. 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.

Once you have an infestation, it takes a lot of work to control the giant hogweed to prevent its spread, as its seeds - each plant can shed thousands - remain viable in the soil for several years. Instead, you should very carefully pull the plant out by its roots or use herbicides to kill the plant.

If a person comes into contact with the plant and its sap, it is recommended they wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible and keep the exposed area away from sunlight for at least 48 hours.

If you think you've been burned by a reaction after coming into contact, see a physician immediately.

Other tips include using topical steroids to ease discomfort.

In general, the Department of Environmental Conservation recommends contacting it (or the corresponding department in your state) for professional removal.

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