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article imageWarnings issued in Canada and U.S. over giant hogweed plant

By Karen Graham     Jul 10, 2016 in Environment
Authorities in Michigan and Ontario, Canada are the latest to issue warnings on the dangers of a giant invasive plant that can cause severe burns and blindness in those unfortunate enough to tangle with it.
The giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, is also called giant cow parsnip, hogsbane, or giant cow parsley. But whatever you call this noxious plant, don't touch it, please. The plant is native to the Caucasus region and Central Asia.
To give credit where credit is due, the giant hogweed does have beautiful full, flower heads that form an umbrella at the top of the plant. It grows to heights of 2–5.5 meters (6.5 to 18 feet), with thick leaves stretching five feet wide, and stems that are bright green with purple blotches and stout bristles that look like white hairs.
Giant hogweed  pretty to look at  deadly to touch.
Giant hogweed, pretty to look at, deadly to touch.
Those of us living in North America can put the blame for this plant's invasion of our soil on some misguided plant enthusiasts living in New York in 1917, who brought it into the country because they thought its umbrella-shaped white flowers were so beautiful.
Someone in British Columbia, Canada must have thought the same thing because the giant hogweed made an appearance there around 1930, and in Ontario in the late 1940s or early 1950s, according to reports, Since then, it's managed to spread across the U.S. and Canada, as well.
One of the hogweed's distinct advantages is that it can survive in temperatures ranging from below zero to over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It is able to spread easily owing to its size, enabling it to spew thousands of seeds into the wind, gaining as much as a square mile every year.
Once the flower heads have dried in the fall  the seeds are easily dispersed on the winds.
Once the flower heads have dried in the fall, the seeds are easily dispersed on the winds.
Gordon Brown
But we have saved the scary part until the last, and it can be your worst nightmare come true. According to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the clear sap of the giant hogweed plant is phototoxic, and once it gets on your skin, the trouble begins, reports CTV News.
The sap contains toxins called furanocoumarins, and once the toxins are exposed to sunlight, the real problem begins. Activated by the ultraviolet radiation, they can produce severe dermatitis, forming blisters that burn within 48 hours. Black or purplish scars are formed that can last several years.
This plant can also cause temporary or even permanent blindness should any of the sap get into the eyes. That's why so many states and provinces put out warnings this time of year, reminding people of the dangers of handling or even trying to remove this plant from their property.
Most authorities advise that children should be kept away from giant hogweed, that protective clothing, including eye protection, should be worn when handling or digging it, and that if skin is exposed, the affected area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and the exposed skin protected from the sun for several days.
More about giant hogweed plant, Invasive species, noxious weed, Canada, New york
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