Giant Hogweed sounds like a science fiction plant, from a poor script for a summer drive-in movie. It most certainly is not. It made such an impact when it appeared in England that the rock band Genesis wrote a song about it, titled The Return Of The Giant Hogweed.
Heracleum mantegazzianum is the Latin name for the Giant Hogweed. Truly a giant plant, it grows eight to 15 feet high. It is an invasive species in the United States, being native to the Caucasus Mountains of Central Asia. The Department of Agriculture suggests it was imported as an ornamental plant, and as a spice producing plant for some Iranian food dishes.
The federal government considers it a noxious weed, and with good cause. The sap the plant produces, when exposed to sunlight, can cause large, painful blisters on the skin, dark scars and blindness if it gets into the eyes. Contact with leaves and stems can also result in exposure to the sap, and the plant ought to be handled just as poison ivy.
This is not a weed that the average homeowner can eliminate. It has a long tap root which permits the plant to survive being cut down. The danger from the sap and the difficulty in destroying the plant has caused the New York Department of Health to suggest that professionals be consulted.
Giant Hogweed can be found in parts of the states of Washington and Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maine. Massachusetts also has been fighting an infestation. The infestation in New York is heaviest in Western and Central New York.
New York's Department of Environmental Conservation is now spearheading the eradication program. A Giant Hogweed hotline at (845) 256-3111 is available for reporting sightings or for help in identifying the plant. The DEC has fourteen people in the field working on destroying the plant. There are 944 known Giant Hogweed growing sites in New York. In 2010 over 1.2 million plants were sprayed with herbicide or removed.
The attack of the incredible Giant Hogweed is underway in New York. Avoid contact if at all possible. Wash with soap and water if contact is made with the plant. Wash all clothing exposed to the plant. Consult a physician if physical symptoms develop. Call the DEC to report suspect plants' locations.