Unsafe giant hogweed found in Virginia; can cause blindness, severe burns

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Metzgar recently helped identify a patch of giant hogweed in Berryville, Va. If the Virginia Cooperative Extension confirms it is hogweed, you are urged to report it to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Although the plant looks very pretty and 14 feet tall, it risky.

Though common in NY state, which has spent millions fighting the plant, and elsewhere in the Northeast, the giant hogweeds in Berryville and Frederick County are the plant's first known locations in Virginia.

The plant's watery sap contains photosensitizing agents. Hogweed has been a problem plant in Pennsylvania and NY but had not been seen so far south in the US, until now, as The Post reported this week. If the sap gets in your eyes, you could go blind. The white flowers on top look a little bit like Queen Anne's Lace, and sit kind of like an umbrella over the rest of the plant.

"If you get exposed to it, best course of action to wash up with soap and water and stay out of sun", Jordan Metzgar, a curator at Virginia Tech's Massey Herbarium, told the Washington Post.

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Giant hogweed is part of the carrot family, and for a toxic plant, it is surprisingly pretty. If you must touch giant hogweed, wear disposable rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and trousers. 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.

It's called giant hogweed for a reason: it can grow 15 feet tall or taller.

The plant has been spotted in NY but also, Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and parts of the Pacific Northwest. The plants spread when birds or waterways carry the seeds to new locations.

Recent sightings in OH include a giant hogweed plant in Pepper Pike, according to the Cleveland Metroparks. Metzgar says these plants are not highly proliferous as evidenced by the fact these have been there since then and have not been found anywhere else. If necessary, the DNR can even obtain a court order to eradicate it.

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