Plant that causes third-degree burns and blindness spotted in Shenandoah Valley

Rodiano Bonacci
Giugno 18, 2018

If the sap gets into the eye, it can even lead to blindness. This will cause the plant's sap to splatter and spread quickly.

The giant hogweed plant is originally from the Caucasus region, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea where Europe and Asia meet.

Officials in Virginia have confirmed a giant weed that can cause third-degree burns and blindness has been found in the state.

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.

The giant hogweed plant itself (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is technically a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family. These days, it is by far the scariest plant you could find in the Baltic States and Poland, where it's considered highly invasive. A toxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact.

But unless you're familiar with its nasty secret, you might think the giant hogweed looks cool - these large plants can grow more than 4 metres (14 feet) tall, spreading their huge leaves and producing massive umbrella-shaped clusters of white flowers.

Green stems are splotched with purple and have coarse white hairs, which carry the plant's unsafe sap.

The Virginia Department of Transportation also reported sightings of the Giant Hogweed in nearby Middlesex County and around Staunton, about 33 miles west of Charlottesville, according to Richmond TV station WRIC. The Massey Herbarium said it appeared the previous landowner planted the giant hogweed at the site for ornamental reasons.

The Virginia Tech group posted photos of the plant on Facebook, urging anyone who comes across a giant hogweed plant to report it - and be careful not to touch it. The plant can be confused with cow parsnip, which is native to Virginia.

"Do not mow, cut or weed whack the plant, as it will just send up new growth and put you at risk for being exposed to sap - the same kind of thing that would happen with poison ivy or sumac. If you get sap on your clothes, carefully remove the clothing to avoid skin and eye contact and wash separately from other clothing with warm water and detergent".

There are specific procedures that need to followed to be sure the plants are killed, and there are certain herbicides that are legal for use by a licensed pesticide applicator.

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