Giant Hogweed: What You Need To Know
As the summer weather drives people to spend more time outside, there are an increasing number of reports emerging of giant hogweed causing severe burns. The plant typically grows along footpaths and riverbanks, and can be very dangerous. If you’d like to enjoy the outdoors safely, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the plant so you can avoid it.
What Does Giant Hogweed Look Like?
Heracleum mantegazzianum, commonly known as giant hogweed, is a close relative of cow parsley and looks similar enough to often be confused with it. It has thick stems which branch out into clusters of small white flowers, and can grow up to 3.5m (11.5ft) high. The flower heads can be as large as 60cm (2ft) across. What slightly sets giant hogweed apart from cow parsley is its purple-hued stem and mottled leaves.
Why Is It Dangerous?
There are toxic components in giant hogweed’s leaves, stem, roots, flowers and seeds which can easily be transferred to the skin by touch. If the plant’s sap comes into contact with the skin it can cause severe burns and blistering, and can make your skin more sensitive to strong sunlight. If it comes into contact with the eyes, it can cause blindness.
Why Is Giant Hogweed a Growing Problem?
Giant hogweed is originally from southwest Asia, and was brought over to the UK in the 1800s to be planted in ornamental gardens. Unfortunately, the plant soon escaped cultivation and began to grow freely across the country. It is now so widespread, the chances of eradicating it entirely are extremely low.
A giant hogweed plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds per year. A single plant can cause hundreds more to flourish, allowing it to spread quickly and become increasingly common every year. There have been a particularly high number of burns over the past couple of months because the plant is at its full growth in the summer, meaning it’s at its most dangerous.
What Should I Do If I See It?
If you come across giant hogweed, you should keep your distance from it. Simply brushing against the plant is enough to cause painful burns, so it’s best to avoid contact entirely and leave disposing of it to an expert.
However, if you do find yourself responsible for removing some giant hogweed, make sure you don’t touch the plant with your bare skin. Use long, waterproof gloves and cover up any skin which will be in close proximity to the plant. It’s also advisable to protect your eyes with sunglasses, a visor or something similar.
If giant hogweed is being spread onto your land, contact the responsible landowner or occupier and ask them to prevent the spreading. If the landowner does not take action, you can call Natural England on 0300 060 112 to discuss making a formal injurious weeds complaint.
What Should I Do If I Come Into Contact With It?
If your skin comes into contact with giant hogweed, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and cold water as soon as you can. Cover up the area and keep it out of sunlight for 48 hours. If you feel unwell after receiving burns or see signs of an allergic reaction, you should see your doctor.
If you receive a burn which affects only a small area, you will most likely be able to deal with it without assistance. However, falling into a patch of giant hogweed or getting the sap in your eyes can be much more dangerous. When spending time outdoors alone, make sure you take a mobile phone with you so that if you find yourself seriously hurt you can call someone for help.
The best thing you can do to avoid problems with giant hogweed is familiarise yourself with how it looks so you can avoid it. When taking walks anywhere you might come into contact with plants, keep your eyes peeled for its white flowers, and be cautious about what you touch.