Toxic Giant Hogweed Plant Has Spread to Virginia

Giant hogweed an invasive plant that can cause third-degree burns and even permanent blindness has been found in Virginia and other states.  VT MASSEY HERBARIUM

An Invasive Plant That Causes Third-Degree Burns And Even Blindness Has Been Found In Virginia

And it's at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley.

After Britain first made the mistake in the 19th century, as an "ornamental" garden plant it was also introduced to North America just a few decades later, and since then it's been a battle to stop the flowering monster's march across the continent.

The plant grows very tall - as high as 14-feet.

But Sutphin adds that more noticeable than the height is the effect the plant's sap can have on you. Warnings have been issued in previous years after discoveries in Michigan, New York and elsewhere in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

In addition to Pennsylvania, giant hogweed can be found in New York, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and ME, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The group has identified about 30 toxic hogweed plants in Virginia so far.

The sap of giant hogweed, found in its stem, contains toxic chemicals called "furanocoumarins". This condition makes the skin highly sensitive to ultraviolet light. This reaction can result in painful blisters that leave purple or black scars on the skin for months.

If you do come in contact with the weed, you're advised to wash your hands immediately with cold water and get out of the sun before contacting a healthcare professional.

The site advises to "call your healthcare provider for any severe reactions or if sap has gotten into your eyes". A towel or compress soaked in aluminum acetate, which you can purchase from pharmacies, provides temporary relief for skin irritations. Contact with the eyes can cause temporary or permanent blindness. If the Virginia Cooperative Extension confirms it is hogweed, you are urged to report it to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Officials in Isle of Wight County, in eastern Virginia near Norfolk and Newport News, posted a warning on Facebook about the invasive plant, which can grow to nearly 15 feet. The plant can be confused with cow parsnip, which is native to Virginia.

Virginia residents are warned not use a weed-whacker to remove the plant.

Here are five must-know facts about giant hogweed. If hogweed sap gets into the eye, rinse with water immediately and put on sunglasses.

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

The giant hogweed, a poisonous species, is already listed in eight states, and has now been spotted in Virginia.

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