A towering weed that can burn the skin if touched, and can even cause blindness. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. Unfortunately, this weed is real, and spreading fast across Canada.
The Giant Hogweed, which can grow up to 5.5 meters (20 ft) has been spotted almost everywhere this summer, and some people worry the plant is growing out of control. Its been seen in Vancouver Island, in river banks in Toronto and Ottawa, and even on roadsides and in wastelands.
This plant may be impressive to look at, but it poses a real threat to humans who aren’t wearing protective clothing. Small pistules on the plant contain toxic sap that can burn the skin if touched. If it gets in your eye, it can burn your cornea and cause temporary -or permanent- blindness.
Experts aren’t sure how the Giant Hogweed came to Canada or how long it’s been here. It originated in Asia, so someone probably brought it here decades ago thinking it would make a great ornamental plant.
However in got here, the plant has recently become quite invasive. Todd Boland, a scientist with Memorial University’s Botanical Garden told The Canadian Press that the giant weed is getting out of control in St. John’s, saying the city needed to manage it seriously.
The problem with trying to stop Giant Hogweed is that its large roots make it hard to dig up. Anyone who tries to dig it up has to wear full protective clothing, gloves and mask.
Even after it’s removed or simply mowed down, the plant can easily reseed itself. Each plant can produce 50,000 winged seeds which can remain without growing in the soil for up to 15 years.
Besides the obvious dangers the plant holds, it also crowds out native species. And because it has shallow roots that don’t hold the soil as well as native species, infestations of Hogweed can lead to soil erosion along riverbanks.
People who come across the weed are warned to stay away from it. If you come in contact with Hogweed:
- find shelter immediately, to stop the sap from photosynthesizing
- wash exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water
Skin can redden 24 hours after exposure. An inflammatory reaction normally occurs after three days. If you do have a reaction, you are advised to see a doctor.
Anyone who thinks they’ve seen Giant Hogweed advise their local municipality of its location.