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Giant Hogweed: A Poisonous, Invasive Species

Giant Hogweed: A Poisonous, Invasive Species

Giant Hogweed is a federally-listed noxious weed. In 1999, former President Clinton signed the “Invasive Species” executive order, directing Federal agencies to “prevent the introduction of invasive species and provide for their control and to minimize the economic, ecological and human health impacts that invasive species cause.”

Giant hogweed can grow to 14 feet high or more:

·         The hollow, ridged stems grow 2-4 inches in diameter

·         The large leaves can grow up to 5 feet wide

·         The white flower heads can grow up to 2 ½ feet in diameter

Giant hogweed sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause phytophotodermatitis, a serious skin inflammation.

·         phyto = plant

·         photo = light

·         derma = skin

·         -itis = inflammation

The toxic sap is found in the:

·         Lower part of the hollow stems and stems of the leaves

·         Hollow hairs on the plant

·         Leaves

·         Stems

·         Flower or fruit

Contact between the skin and the sap of this plant occurs through brushing against the bristles on the stem, or breaking the stem or leaves. The sap prevents your skin from protecting itself from sunlight, which leads to a very bad sunburn. Heat and moisture (sweat) can worsen the skin reaction. The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with peak sensitivity between 30 minutes and two hours after contact.

Symptoms and Complications:

·         Severe skin and eye irritation

·         Painful blistering

·         Long-term light sensitivity

·         Permanent scarring

·         Blindness may occur if the sap gets into the eye

Safety precautions to follow when controlling giant hogweed plants:

·         Do not touch the plant with bare skin

·         Do not touch your bare skin with sap covered gloves

·         Prevent UV sunlight from reaching skin by wearing long waterproof gloves, long sleeves, pants, boots, and eye protection. Synthetic water-resistant materials are best since cotton and linen fibers can soak up the plant sap and be penetrated by plant hairs

·         If controlling plants with multiple people, keep a good distance from one another as the sap can splash three to four feet

·         Apply sun block before beginning to work

·         Launder clothes that may have contacted plants

·         Wash equipment with water immediately after use

·         Limit exposure to sunlight after weed control or work around giant hogweed plants after sunset

·         Do not use a "weed-whacker" as the sap may splatter as stems are cut

·         Keep water, soap, and eye-wash near work area in case of exposure

What should you do if you are exposed to giant hogweed sap?

·         Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and cold water as soon as possible

·         Keep exposed area away from sunlight for 48 hours

·         If a reaction occurs, over-the-counter topical steroids applied early can reduce the severity of the reaction and ease discomfort

·         If sap goes in eyes, rinse your eyes with water and seek emergency care

·         See a healthcare provider if you have a reaction or any questions

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