Proving that plants don’t have to be exposed to radiation to be hazardous to humans, an enormous and toxic carrot family member known as the Giant Hogweed is considered to be Britain’s most dangerous plant because it can cause third-degree burns when touched and blindness if rubbed in the eyes. What’s worse, its range is spreading and it may be coming to your neighborhood.
Giant hogweed has been in the news recently after a number of children in Great Britain unknowingly played with the plant and ended up in the hospital. A 10-year-old girl in touched one while fishing at Loch Lomond and received third degree burns so severe that she may need skin grafts. A girl in Salford was permanently scarred by one and four teens in Bolton suffered severe blistering. And in a highly-publicized case, a family sued the owners of a park where their son was burned. What kind of evil monster plant is this?
Heracleum mantegazzianum – AKA giant hogweed, cartwheel-flower, giant cow parsnip, hogsbane or giant cow parsley – is native to the Caucasus Region and Central Asia, was brought to England in the 19th century as an ornamental and has since spread to Europe, the U.S. and Canada. The giant hogweed can grow to 18 feet (5.5 m) in height but its danger comes not from its size but its sap.
The sap contains phototoxic chemicals which, when touched, cause skin to blister in sunlight, resulting in severe sunburn and scarring. If rubbed in the eyes, it can cause permanent blindness. As a result, the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 made it illegal to plant or aid in the growth of giant hogweed in England. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal Noxious Weed list ranks giant hogweed higher than more well-known toxic plants like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Despite strong preventative measures, it continues to spread, having just been reported in Glanville, Massachusetts.
If you think you’ve been attacked by a giant hogweed, wash your skin immediately with soap and water, stay out of sunlight and get professional medical attention, especially if you get the sap in your eyes. If you find the plant in the wild or in a yard, notify local officials and have the giant hogweed removed by trained professionals.
And if you still don’t believe it’s dangerous, maybe you’ll listen to Genesis.