If you thought coming down with a case of poison oak was bad, keep an eye out for giant hogweed. Although giant hogweed may be pretty to look at, this beast of a plant is bad news. The carrot cousin has umbrella-shaped white flower clusters—think yarrow or Queen Anne's lace, but way bigger—and can grow up to two and a half feet wide and 14 feet tall. Like poison oak, the sap of giant hogweed is the troublemaker. Triggered by sun exposure, coming in contact with this plant’s sap can cause third-degree burns and even permanent blindness. “Giant hogweed makes poison ivy look like a walk in the park,” officials warned on the Isle of Wight County Virginia Facebook page. Needless to say, this invasive plant is NOT something you want to play with.
Recently spotted in Clarke County, Virginia, giant hogweed spreads without borders. The clear watery sap of giant hogweed is a force to be reckoned with, containing carcinogenic and teratogenic elements, which in turn can cause cancer and birth defects. In fact, it's so harmful to humans that it's been named a noxious weed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The plant grows along streams and rivers and in fields, forests, yards, and roadsides, and has already been found in states in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, with a sighting in North Carolina.
If you think you've come in contact with giant hogweed, immediately wash the affected area with soap and cold water. Carefully remove all clothing that may have come in contact with the plant and wash thoroughly. Keep the exposed area out of the sunlight for at least 48 hours. If the sap gets into your eyes, rinse with water and wear sunglasses. Immediately see a doctor if any sign of reaction sets in.
Eradication of giant hogweed requires physically removing it while wearing protective clothing or dousing the plant in an herbicide. Whatever the case, do NOT use a weed whacker to remove the plant; this will cause sap to spatter and spread. If you find what looks like giant hogweed in your area, report sightings here.