Invasive plant causes severe burns and possibly blindness
The flowers of the Giant Hogweed are beautiful, but the plant produces a sap that's very sensitive to sunlight and can cause third degree burns.
Giant Hogweed was brought to the United States about 100 years ago as an ornamental plant. Since then it's been spread across many states by wind, birds, and us.
"Probably the way they're being spread is by people. People think it's a beautiful plant and say I want one of those. they bring it in and put in their garden and next thing you know we got it here," says Tom Stebbins, a botanist at the University of Tennessee Ag Extension office in Hamilton County.
The Tennessee Invasive Plant Council has no official records of the plant in the Volunteer State, and Stebbins wants to keep it that way.
The flowers of the Giant Hogweed are beautiful, but the plant produces a sap that's very sensitive to sunlight and can cause third degree burns. It's much worse than the rash from poison oak or poison ivy.
"It gets on your skin and it gets worse and worse and worse as you get out in the sun more and more, that's the problem with it," explains Stebbins. "If you get it in your eyes, what I've read is that is can cause blindness."
This plants lives up to its name. It can be seven to nearly 20 feet tall and up to two feet wide, and its seeds spread quickly. The flowers look like Queen Anne's Lace, so to tell the difference look for a purple stem and stiff, white hairs at the base.
In the U.S., Giant Hogweed is found mostly from the Midwest to the Northeast but is also found not far from us in North Carolina and Virginia. It grows mainly in areas that aren't mowed often, as well as near creeks, fence lines, and tree lines.
We can't top the wind or the birds from spreading the seeds, so the best way to keep Giant Hogweed out of Tennessee is for people to stay out of the process. The plant is on the Federal Noxious Weeds List, meaning it's illegal to bring it into the country or transport it across state lines.
"Maybe if we find it in a certain spot, through education we can tell people not to bring it into their garden, no matter how pretty it is," adds Stebbins.
If you end up finding growth of Giant Hogweed in your Tennessee neighborhood, call your nearest UT-Ag office. If you encounter it in your travels and the sap gets on your skin, treat it with lotion and get to a doctor as soon as possible.