These Beautiful Flowers Hide A Dangerous Toxin.
From the beautiful to the bizarre, invasive species in Western New York have unfortunately become almost commonplace.
Over the past several decades, non-native species have invaded the region's environment on all levels, from aquatic species like the Zebra Mussel and the Asian Carp to insects like the Emerald Ash Borer. Although invasive plants and animals can cause a lot of different problems, few are actually physically harmful to humans.
Not so with the appropriately named Giant Hogweed, which can grow up to 20 feet tall. The sap of this statuesque plant is highly toxic, with the potential to cause third degree burns and blindness.
As with many invasive plant species, this vicious invader came from Europe as an ornamental garden plant. Once rooted into North American soil, the Hogweed has proven to be difficult to eradicate. Howard Winkler, DEC Hogweed Technician tells 2 The Outdoors "It got here from Eurasia, as gardening mostly, and people liked how it looked, and eventually it just got out of control."
The Giant Hogweed's sap is what makes it such a formidible foe. The sap is phototoxic, containing chemicals that react with sunlight to cause blisters and severe burns. If the sap gets into the eyes, it can cause temporary and even permanent blindness.
Quite a deadly mixture from a once seemingly harmless garden plant."If you actually crack the stem and get the sap on you, it can cause burns or if you brush against the bristles, it can do the same."
Winkler says the burns may be persistent " Yep. They can be there for about a few years, actually,they can keep coming back, and they can be very painful."
The NY DEC is leading the assault on this toxic titan. In New York, the plant has spread quickly from Western to Central New York, and is starting to creep in to the Adirondacks. Eradication has proven somewhat difficult. Field crews often need to apply herbicides as well as uprooting the plants to keep them controlled. The key to the process is to stop the seeds from spreading. These deadly little spores can remain active for up to 10 years!
Winkler describes the process, "You have to dig it up, and the next year it comes back and you keep doing this for three to five years, until the seed bank is completely gone. You have to cut the seeds as soon as they appear and bag them, and make sure you get them out of the way of reproducing again."
For landowners, identification of the Giant Hogweed is not too difficult. The immense size is the first clue, but the plant can be easily identified when it's small, too. The Hogweeds' leaves are large and spiky, and the stems have tell-tale purple splotches with spiky white bristles. When fully grown, the plants' large flowers bloom white in the summer, making identification even easier. Given the deadly nature of this invader, extra caution should always be taken when attempting to exterminate this weed.
Winkler warns "You have to have a full tyvek suit on, gloves, glasses, rubber boots, just to be extra safe. If they do see them, call the hotline, and make sure you get it out of there before it gets out of control."
The DEC needs the public's assistance in wiping out this dangerous plant. If you think you've sighted it, you can call the Hogweed Hotline at (845 ) 256-3111.