Keep your eyes peeled for these pretty but nasty weeds across New York.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is warning about a plant spreading across the state that could cause some major health consequences called giant hogweed. 

A giant hogweed flower
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What is giant hogweed?

Giant hogweed, a member of the carrot family, is an invasive weed with a large, white, umbrella-shaped flower on top. It can grow to be as high as ten to fourteen feet tall. The weed is often found in marshy, wet areas like beside streams. Currently, there are over 188 sites across New York State where there are more than 400 giant hogweed plants - several of those right here in Western New York.

A map of locations where giant hogweed can be found in New York State
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Although it may be considered a pretty plant to some, you don’t want to be anywhere near a giant hogweed plant - trust us.

Why is giant hogweed dangerous?

Similar to poison ivy or oak, giant hogweed is poisonous to the touch, causing severe skin reactions like blisters and scarring.

Hairs on a giant hogweed stem
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The plant’s coarse hair-like features on its stem leak out sap, and contact with giant hogweed sap renders the skin unable to protect itself from sunlight. The scientific term for this is called phytophotodermatitis, and the consequences of it sure aren’t pretty. 

Reaction to it can start as soon as fifteen minutes after touching giant hogweed, can last several days, and lead to third-degree burns on skin that is exposed to sunlight. AKA - think of the worst sunburn you've ever had in your life, then multiply it by a hundred. Ouch.

A severe burn on a man's arm caused by exposure to giant hogweed
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(For some stomach-churning pictures, check out this site from the DEC - but be warned, they are seriously very gross and graphic.)

What to do if you’ve seen or touched giant hogweed

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If you’ve made contact with a giant hogweed plant, wash off the afflicted area with soap and water as soon as possible (preferably within twenty minutes of exposure) and keep the area out of sunlight for at least twenty-four hours.

If you think you’ve spotted a giant hogweed plant out on the trail or on your property, it’s advised that you don’t try to remove the plant yourself. Instead, you’re asked to report it to the New York State DEC by calling 845-256-3111, texting photos of the plant to 518-320-0309, or emailing pictures to ghogweed@dec.ny.gov

Other dangerous plants in New York State

Be on the lookout for these other invasive plants that the New York DEC warns could cause skin irritation and rashes, ruining your yard and your day. 

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy plant.
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Poison ivy is a small vine or shrub that's found along path edges, walls, roadways, and young woodlands. This common invasive plant contains oils that cause itchy rashes and blisters. 

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac plant.
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Appearing as a woody shrub or a small tree up to 20 feet tall, the seasonal color-changing poison sumac plant also contains oils that can cause severe skin irritation, as well as produce noxious, hazardous smoke when burned. 

Cow Parsnip

Cow parsnip plant.
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Similar to wild hogweed, this sap from this flowering plant will make skin extra sensitive to UV rays, causing painful burns and blisters. Cow parsnip can be found in many habitats, including grasslands, alongside streams, and in wooded areas. 

Wild Parsnip

Wild parsnip plant.
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The yellow-flowered wild parsnip weed will also make your skin more susceptible to burns in sunlight.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle plants.
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This herb looks harmless, but after touching the hairs on a stinging nettle’s stem, you can experience intense itching and burning that can last up to half an hour. 

 

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