Giant Hogweed Plant Can Cause Blindness, Burns; Indiana Residents Warned

Image: Giant Hogweed Plant Can Cause Blindness, Burns; Indiana Residents Warned

Friday, 21 Jun 2013 12:10 PM

By Megan Anderle

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Giant hogweed, a dangerous plant, is growing in some parts of Indiana, and environmental officials say it can cause blindness and severe skin irritation when a person touches it.

The giant hogweed plant isn't deadly, but Philip Marshall, Division Director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Entomology & Plant Pathology, said his agency is warning residents to keep away.

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“We are trying to get rid of it," Marshall said. "It has a big flower and there are a lot of look alikes.”

Just the oil from the plant on a person's skin and exposing it to sunlight can cause blistering, Marshall said. The sap in hogweed is clear and watery, but it contains toxins that cause photo-dermatitis, a skin reaction to ultraviolet rays Indiana station WTHI-TV reported.

The giant hogweed plant has been spotted in northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County and Kosciusko County as well as near railroad tracks, Marshall said.

The plant, which is normally recognizable by its height and white flowers, doesn’t blend in, with huge, sharply lobed leaves; hollow, hairy, purple-splotched stems, four inches in diameter; and towering umbrella-shaped white flowers that bloom in late spring, the Washington Post reported on the giant hogweed. It can grow to heights of 15 feet or more and looks like Cows Parsnip, which is a harmless plant.

Officials say to flush the area with water as soon as possible if you come in contact with hogweed.

The last time giant hogweed was found in Indiana was 3 or 4 years ago, according to local station WSBT-TV.

Originally from the mountains of Central Asia, giant hogweed made its debut in New York about 100 years ago as a dramatic ornamental plant. It has been popping up ever since, according to the Washington Post.

Workers wearing gloves, goggles and protective clothing remove the plant and treat the site with herbicides. Hogweed usually succumbs after three years.

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