Risky plant that can cause blindness, severe burns spotted in Virginia

Christopher Davidson
June 19, 2018

An invasive plant that can cause frightful third-degree burns if you so much as brush against its bristles has been spotted for the first in the state of Virginia.

If you come across the plant, you are urged to report it to the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

These plants had previously been found growing in other parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England, including in New York, Pennsylvania, and MA; and in the Pacific Northwest in OR and Washington.

It can be identified by a large compound umbel of white flowers, large, deeply incised leaves and prominent white hairs and purple blotches on its stems, according to OSU Extension.

Giant hogweed is listed in Virginia by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) as a "noxious weed, ' and by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) as "an early detection invasive plant", which means it is not yet entrenched in Virginia, Heffernan said".

Giant hogweed looks very similar to the common native species cow parsnip, but if the hogweed's sap touches the skin it can cause chronic, burning pain that can last several weeks, according to experts at Virginia Tech University's Massey Herbarium.

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If Hollywood wanted to make a movie about a horrifying plant invasion, giant hogweeds would make a great candidate for the lead role - they are absolutely massive, incredibly toxic, and readily spread wherever their seeds take root.

While giant hogweed was often originally planted for ornamental reasons, it can spread if soil containing plant or seeds gets moved or if seeds are carried by wind or a person or animal to a new location. The reaction also causes dark, painful blisters, which can leave scars. The toxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after coming into contact with the toxic photochemicals, so you must get out of the sun. Compresses soaked in an aluminum acetate mixture - available at pharmacies - can provide relief for skin irritations. If the sap gets into anyone's eyes, there is the potential for blindness.

It's important to know how to recognize giant hogweed if you are in a state where it might grow, and what to do if you find it.

Isle of Wight County posted on Facebook warning about a possible sighting of the plant.

What ScienceAlert calls a "giant horror plant" has made its way to yet another U.S. state, and people who come in contact with it could feel the pain. Seek advice from professional plant control specialists about management options. Then, you should wash the exposed area with soap and water.

Knowing what to look for and how to handle it could help you avoid a serious injury.

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