THURSDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- Call it the import that
Experts are urging residents of several states to beware of the
"giant hogweed," a tall plant native to Central Asia with
umbrella-size flowers containing toxic sap that can cause burns,
blisters and, in some cases, even blindness.
"Avoid it at all cost," Jodi Holt, a professor of plant physiology at University of California, Riverside, told ABC News.
"The sap causes something called phytophotodermatitis when it touches humans," causing scars and potentially blindness if it comes into contact with the eyes, Holt said. Some cases of blindness occurred after children used the hollow stalks as telescopes.
Heracleum Mantegazzianum, as hogweed is botanically known, is already a concern in the Northeast and spreading fast. Patches of giant hogweed have also been sighted in the Pacific Northwest.
With white blossoms a foot or larger in diameter, giant hogweed
towers up to 15 feet tall and thrives in wet, cool places. It is
often spotted near homes, roadways, railroad beds and streams,
ABC News said.
Crews in several states, including New York, have been charged
with seeking out and destroying the invasive species. New York has
also set up a giant hogweed hotline -- 845-256-3111-- for people to
Typically, large quantities of herbicides are needed to vanquish
the plant when found in large patches. Smaller patches can be
controlled by hand-cutting the roots, according to published
Giant hogweed has been found and destroyed in three counties of
Vermont -- Bennington, Washington and Windsor, state plant
pathologists reported. And officials in Washington, D.C., are
asking residents to be on the lookout for giant hogweed so they can
weed out the botanical terrorist, according to news reports.
According to the New York state Department of Environmental
Conservation, reactions can occur within 15 minutes when skin
contact occurs in conjunction with sunlight. The sap contains a
photosensitizing chemical that accelerates sun damage and can
result in a serious sunburn. Perspiration can increase the
reaction, officials said.
If you spot giant hogweed, don't try to remove it yourself,
experts said. Instead, report the sighting to your state or local
department of invasive species control.
"The importance of learning what the plant looks like cannot be overstated," Holt told ABC News.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put the giant hogweed
near the top of its Federal Noxious Weed list. The agency said the
plant has been reported in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, Washington and Vermont.
To learn more about poisonous plants, visit the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.