The truth about giant hogweed

After recent reports that a 10-year-old girl was hospitalised with third-degree burns from touching the invasive Giant Hogweed species, Charlie Souter-Phillips shares the need-to-know facts about the plant, plus tips on how to keep safe.

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Giant Hogweed against an out of focus green field.  No friend to gardeners and conservationists , it is much loved by beekeepers (some of whose flock can be seen hard at work on the flowers). This Canon EOS-1D Mk IV image offers a very generous XL size.

After recent reports that a 10-year-old girl was hospitalised with third-degree burns from touching the invasive Giant Hogweed species, we share the need-ro-know facts about the plant, plus tips on how to keep safe.

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Giant Hogweed, or Heracleum mantegazzianum, is native to Central Asia and was brought to Britain in 1893 as an ornamental plant. It is a close relative of cow parsley and a member of the carrot family. It can grow up to 16 feet, with thick coarse stalks and white flowers that come in upwards-facing, level clusters.

The dangers

The weed contains toxic chemicals in its sap, which can irritate skin. These substances can sometimes make skin sensitive to sunlight and can cause photodermatitis or photosensitivity. This causes burns and blistering that are very painful and can result in pigmentation and scarring. The effects of touching the plant do not appear immediately, but often take between 24 – 48 hours.

If you do come into contact with the plant, cover up the area of skin immediately to prevent sunlight reaching it, then wash the area thoroughly before seeking medical help if needed. 

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Hogweed in your garden

If you want to remove Giant Hogweed from your garden, first try to dig roots out or suppress the plant with mulch. If this does not work then choose an appropriate weed killer. When controlling Giant Hogweed in your garden always wear gloves and cover all of your skin, and if you do come into contact with it then wash with soap immediately. Be aware that the tools and clothing you used can still be contaminated with the sap so you need to be careful when handling them.