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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Giant hogweed


Beauty and the Burn isn’t a Walt Disney movie but the headline on an article about wild parsnip and giant hogweed, two bad-news plants that can burn and scar you and, in the case of hogweed, even blind you should you get its sap in your eyes.

The article is in the most recent issue of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazinetjndc5-5fpvle4cd2agxwac4ms_layout-1.jpg, The Conservationist. After the jump, I’ve pasted a story I did last year about giant hogweed.

Back then, it was growing in a few spots along Croton Falls Road in Mahopac (see photo). I haven’t driven that way lately, so I don’t know if it’s been eradicated from those spots. I do think I’ve recently spotted it in a few other places, though, such as along the Taconic State Parkway just over the Putnam line in Dutchess County and along the Palisades Parkway in Rockland County.

Here’s another blog post from last year on the plant.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

MAHOPAC – “The Little Shop of Horrors” features a voracious plant named Audrey, who becomes hungrier and more aggressive as she ingests blood and human flesh.

The talking plant, which had starring roles in the 1960 black-comedy movie, the 1982 off-Broadway musical and the 1986 film adaptation of the musical, was, of course, a work of fiction. To find a real-life version of frightening flora, however, you would have to look no farther than some Putnam County roadsides.

“It can, I guess, pretty much mutilate you,” said Marlyse Minnich, who lives on Croton Falls Road near where a couple of dozen giant hogweed plants are growing.

The invasive plant, which is native to the region between Turkey and Russia, was brought to this country early last century as a garden showpiece.

Giant hogweed looks like “Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids,” according to one government warning.

Contact with its sap and then exposure to sunlight can result in burn-like lesions, massive blisters and skin discoloration. Very sensitive people can require hospitalization, and the effects can recur. And even tiny amounts of sap in the eyes can result in temporary or permanent blindness, according to state and federal advisories.

Minnich, who runs an online flip-flop store, learned the facts about the vegetative terror from a passing utility worker. Some giant hogweed was growing last year next to the family’s mailbox.

“(My husband) was going to yank it out of the ground. Thank god he didn’t,” said Minnich, who operates www.walkingonroses.com.

Now considered a federal noxious weed, which makes it illegal to propagate, sell or transport, the plant was introduced in Great Britain in the 1800s and, in 1917, cultivated in Rochester.

Since then, it has hopscotched its way across the state and is considered to be a public health hazard.

Most of the 324 confirmed sites are in western New York and the Finger Lakes region. There are some plants pinpointed between Oswego and the western edge of the Adirondack Park.

Putnam and Nassau counties harbor the only known locations in the eastern part of the state, the the Invasive Plant Council of New York State says.

“This stuff is incredibly survivalist,” said Dianne Olsen, an environmental horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Putnam County. “What we’re trying to do is to get people to recognize it. This is a big problem plant.”

Giant hogweed can be found in 11 other states, including Connecticut; the District of Columbia; and two Canadian provinces. What one researcher termed New York’s “most striking and dangerous invasive plant,” has also been discovered in Kent and Putnam Valley, possibly on private property.

Liz Benediktson, a member of the Lake Mahopac Garden Club, said that about two years ago she received a clump from a friend who was growing it in his garden. After digging it up, she said, the friend suffered a severe rash on his chest and arms.

“In doing so, they didn’t realize it was going to put them in the hospital,” Benediktson said.

She added the plant “was beautiful to look at” but she then killed it with bleach.

Scientifically known as Heracleum mantegazzianum (named for Hercules, the mythological hero of strength), giant hogweed can grow up to 20 feet tall. The rock group Genesis warned others to “turn and run” in their song “The Return of the Giant Hogweed.”

“They are invincible. They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering,” the band sang on its 1971 album “Nursery Cryme.”

Minnich said she wasn’t sure what happened to the plant near her mailbox, speculating that maybe a road maintenance crew cut it. She said she is worried about passers-by touching the other plants on Croton Falls Road.

Naja Kraus, the invasive plants program coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said New York is compiling a database of locations and expects to begin an eradication program next year. She had one bit of advice for anyone spotting giant hogweed.

“If they find it, don’t touch it,” she said. “Really. Don’t touch it.”

Reach Michael Risinit at mrisinit@lohud.com or 845-228-2274.

For more information

For more information on giant hogweed and what to do if you come in contact with it, see www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/pubs/poster_phhogweed.pdf and www.health.state.ny.us/environmental/outdoors/hogweed/giant_hogweed.htm.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008 at 2:42 pm by Mike Risinit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Category: Conservationist, Department of Environmental Conservation, giant hogweed, wild parsnip