Officials in Virginia are warning residents to be on the lookout after an invasive plant was found Tuesday in the northern part of the state that can cause third-degree burns and even permanent blindness. Other discoveries have prompted warnings after it was found across the Midwest, as well as in MI and NY.
Mark Sutphin, an agricultural extension agent with Virginia Tech, said he wrangled a piece of Emma's giant hogweed while wearing a Tyvek suit and goggles, then brought it back to the lab for identification.
Since the discovery others have reported giant hogweed sightings, but Martin said the Berryville plant is the only confirmed sighting.
These plants can grow up to 14 feet tall, with thick leaves stretching 2 to 5 feet across.
The plant has been spotted in NY but also, Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and parts of the Pacific Northwest. Like we mentioned, sap from the hogweed contains toxic chemicals. In extreme case, it can cause blindness.
If contact is made with the plant, immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and keep the area away from sunlight for 48 hours, the agency recommends.
A single giant hogweed plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, "The sap prevents your skin from protecting itself from sunlight which leads to a very bad sunburn". Also, be aware that a toxic reaction can start as soon as 15 minutes after having contact with the plant. You could also soak a compress in a mixture of aluminum acetate, which is available at most pharmacies, if you think you've come into contact with the hogweed. These can grow for 10 years once they're dropped off, according to published reports.
It's important to know how to recognize giant hogweed if you are in a state where it might grow, and what to do if you find it. Do not mow, cut or weed whack the plant, as it will just send up new growth and put you at risk for being exposed to sap - the same kind of thing that would happen with poison ivy or sumac. "This seems to be an isolated incident", Michael Flessner, an assistant professor and extension weed science specialist at Virginia Tech, said in a statement.