An invasive plant that emits a toxic sap that, when exposed to sunlight, can cause third-degree burns and even blindness, has been found in northern Virginia, Fox News is reporting. So if you call any of those locations home (or a vacation destination), it can't hurt to commit a few distinguishing features of the plant to memory.
It originated in Asia's Caucasus Mountains and, according to SUNY College at Brockport, one of the first North American plantings of giant hogweed was in Rochester, New York. In the early 20th century, the herb was introduced to the United States as an ornamental garden plant - the impressively-sized plant's white flower heads can reach two and a half feet in diameter.
This was a bad idea.
"And, if the sap gets in your eyes, there is the potential for blindness", she added.
In addition to Pennsylvania, giant hogweed can be found in New York, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and ME, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The USDA website shows it has also been found in MI and IL.
The plant species, which belongs to the carrot family, not just poses a threat to the skin but also impacts the environment.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) identification guide, the plant tends to be between seven and 14 feet tall, with clusters of 50 to 150 flowers that spread as far as two and half feet across.
The leaves are lobed, deeply cut, and up to five feet across.
Its stems usually have a diameter of 2 to 4 inches, with dark purple spots on them along with bristle type hairs.
If you do come across giant hogweed in the wild, don't touch it-and don't try to chop it down using a weed wacker, as that could potentially spread the sap around. The sap can get sprayed around in a risky way.
Affective methods include tedious work, such as cutting the plant roots, removing seed heads, eliminating them when they're still young, and using large amounts of herbicide, all while wearing intricate protective gear.
If you do come in contact with the weed, you're advised to wash your hands immediately with cold water and get out of the sun before contacting a healthcare professional.
If you think you've been burned by a reaction after coming into contact with giant hogweed, see a physician immediately.
If a reaction occurs, topical steroids applied early can reduce its severity and ease discomfort. If sap gets into your eyes, rinse them and wear sunglasses.
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