Hiking and camping are two favorite summer activities. But it’s important to remember that the great outdoors isn’t always as welcoming as it seems.
Discovery’s Emily Sohn recently reported on a giant flowering weed that’s sending some hikers and campers home with blistering burns and even blindness.
With a name like “giant hogweed” you might think it more likely to find this toxic weed on the set of the recent Harry Potter film rather than in your backyard, but researchers say this invasive species is spreading around much of the northern United States.
Standing over 15 feet-tall at its peak and featuring giant leaves and an explosion of tiny white flowers, this noxious weed looks a lot like an overgrown cluster of Queen Anne’s Lace. But you won’t want to bring it home in a bouquet.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, giant hogweed is a native of the Caucasus Mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas. It was introduced to Europe and the United Kingdom in the late nineteenth century and to the United States in the early twentieth century as an ornamental garden plant. It has become established in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Seeds may also be distributed by birds and waterways, and can remain viable for over 10 years.
If you see this plant in the wild, don’t touch it! The giant hogweed’s sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness. Contact between the skin and the sap of this plant occurs either through brushing against the bristles on the stem or breaking the stem or leaves.
Because a single giant hogweed plant can produce over 100,000 seeds each season and casts a wide shadow, making it extremely dangerous for native flora as well.
The good news is that careful efforts are underway to control this plant’s explosive growth, and many eradication programs in the Northeast are experiencing great success.
Image Credit: Flickr – debs-eye