Giant Hogweed, a very large invasive plant, is so dangerous that it can cause third-degree burns and blindness– and it was found last week in Virginia. The Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech confirmed the identity of the plant after a homeowner spotted a stand of it near Winchester, Virginia.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has also received reports of sightings, and in 2016, it was found in Caldwell County, North Carolina. “Now that there’s a confirmed sighting, we need to be on the lookout,” Ken Slack, a VDOT spokesman, told the Washington Post. “We have to make sure folks don’t get into it … don’t go after it like a weed.”
Giant hogweed can grow up to fifteen feet tall and has a clear, toxic sap that makes human skin and eyes dangerously sensitive to sunlight if it makes direct contact. Telltale signs of the plant are its height, white umbrella-shaped flower canopies, a green hairy stalk with purple splotches, and huge incised leaves that can grow up to five feet across. In a note on its Facebook page, Isle of Wight County, Virginia, said the plant “makes poison ivy look like a walk in the park.”
Native to Asia, giant hogweed has been in the United States for decades, notably in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. And while the Winchester plants are the first confirmed in Virginia, Dr. Jordan Metzgar, curator of the Massey Herbarium, says there’s no need to panic.
The hogweed in question was deliberately planted on the property decades ago as an ornamental addition, and the plant doesn’t appear to have yet become widespread. If you think you see giant hogweed, Metzgar suggests calling your local extension agent to confirm its identity, since it is often confused with cow parsnip or even Queen Anne’s lace, which is much smaller.
And whatever you do, do not DIY giant hogweed removal with your weed whacker.