A plant dubbed the 'horror plant' by the DEC because it causes severe burns, and even blindness, is appearing in Central New York, and has been spotted near Utica and Rome. Giant Hogweed is here.

Giant Hogweed is considered a "noxious weed" by the Federal government - which is an understatement, considering the damage it can do. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness.

The sap in Giant hogweed makes your skin extremely sensitive to sunlight resulting in serious burns. Sweat or moisture can make it worse. The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact.

Here's an example of a burn from these plant (sorry - these pictures are gross.)

Credit: DEC.gov/Bob Kleinberg
Credit: DEC.gov/Bob Kleinberg

Contact between the skin and the sap of this plant happens when you brush against the bristles on the stem or break the stem or leaves.

How Can You Identify Giant Hogweed?

Giant hogweed can grow to 14 feet or more, with stems up to 2-4 inches in diameter and leaves that can grow up to 5 feet wide. If you think you see Giant Hogweed, look for these characteristics:

  • White flowers with 50-150 flower rays clustered into an umbrella shaped flower cluster up to 2.5 feet across
Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov
  • Between 7 and 14 feet tall (depending upon growth stage and if mowed or cut)
Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov
  • Huge leaves, incised and deeply lobed up to 5 feet across
Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov
  • Stems are green with extensive purple splotches and prominent coarse white hairs. Stems are also hollow, ridged, 2-4 inches in diameter, and have a thick circle of hairs at base of leaf stalk
Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov
  • Seeds are dry, flattened, and oval. Approximately 3/8 inch long and tan with brown lines (oil tubes) extending 3/4 of the seed length that widen at ends
Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

What should you do if you come in contact with Giant Hogweed?

Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and keep the area away from sunlight for 48 hours. This plant poses a serious health threat; see your physician if you think you have been burned by giant hogweed, per the DEC.  If you think you have giant hogweed on your property, do NOT touch it.

Where Can You Find Giant Hogweed?

Short answer: all over the place. The DEC keeps track of where they have found and eradicated the plant, for obvious reasons.

Credit: DEC.gov

If you find Giant Hogweed on your property, the DEC will help you eliminate it - free of charge. Generally, they use a combination of approaches, including herbicides, cutting them down, and flower/seed removal.

For more information on this very harmful plant, or to report a possible sighting of Giant Hogweed, visit the DEC's website at dec.ny.gov - they provided all the information in this story.