Hogweed: A Serious Concern for Humans (Can Cause Blisters & Blindness)

Hogweed — heard of it? It’s a tall plant with “flower clusters the size of umbrellas” and it oozes toxic sap that can cause blisters, burning, scarring, and even blindness, not fun stuff. It’s a member of the carrot family and can grow 14 feet tall.

Hogweed Spreading in New York

Apparently, hogweed is spreading (yet another result of global warming?)…. New York is one place on alert about the troublesome giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) and the NY Dept of Environmental Conservation has issued severe hogweed warnings to NY residents, alerting people to the fact that it can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness.” Here’s some useful info from CBS:

…the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is asking for help locating outbreaks so they can send crews to destroy the toxic weed. New Yorkers should call the Giant Hogweed Hotline at 845-256-3111 to report sightings, and provide photos of potential outbreaks.  But the agency warns picture takers not to get too close to the plants.

The DEC plans to send six crews totaling 14 people to visit most of the 944 known giant hogweed sites.

How Hogweed Affects You

More on the weed from Naja Kraus, a state ecologist in New York:

“It’s different because (giant hogweed) changes your skin, making it more susceptible to the sun for a number of years,” she said. It’s a condition known as photo-dermatitis, sensitivity to sunlight.

“If the sap gets on your skin, and the sun shines on your skin, especially if there’s moisture like sweat — and it needs the sun — it makes the skin unable to protect itself from sunlight, and you can get third-degree burns and blisters,” Kraus said.

If the sap comes into contact with the eyes, it can cause eye irritation and “can lead to blindness,” she said.

Not cool….

Where Giant Hogweed Grows

10 more states, other than New York, are also home to giant hogweed and have similar programs in place. The states include:

  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Maryland
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Michigan
  • Virginia
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine

Giant hogweed often grows on the sides of roads, rivers, and streams.

Apparently, hogweed originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, which are in between the Black and Caspian Seas. It arrived in the U.S. in the 19th century.

Protecting Yourself from Hogweed

More info from the NY DEC:

  1. online identification guide
  2. photos of hogweed injuries

Looks pretty, but stay far away from it!

hogweed sap burns

What to Do if You Get Hogweed Sap on You

If you do get some hogweed sap on you, these are the recommended steps (but visit the DEC’s site for more detail info):

  1. wash the sap off with cold water
  2. get out of the sunlight, or, if you can’t, put sunscreen on the location
  3. if it gets in your eyes, rinse them out & put on sunglasses
  4. of course, if you get a severe reaction, see a doctor

Photos via Liné1LokilechGerardMAppaloosaLiné1; NY DEC

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