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ITHACA, N.Y. — Local residents should be on the lookout for an invasive plant species that can be harmful if touched and has been spotted in the Tompkins County area.

Giant hogweed, or heracleum mantegazzianum, is recognizable by its appearance, being a “herbaceous plant with a green stem with purple blotches and coarse white hairs, usually encircling the stem where the leaves attach. If the plant is flowering it will be 8 to 14 feet tall and the white flowerhead will be up to 2.5 feet across. The leaves are lobed and deeply incised,” says Naja Kraus, a research scientist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

More identification methods can be found on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, especially for differentiating giant hogweed from its harmless cousin, cow parsley (heracleum phondylium).

(Provided by DEC)

Giant hogweed produces a phototoxic sap, meaning it reacts when exposed to sunlight. The sap can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blisters, permanent scarring, and even blindness if handled incorrectly, according to the DEC. Anyone who comes into contact with the plant is advised to immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and avoid exposing the affected area to sunlight for 48 hours.

The plant is native to an area north of Georgia and Azerbaijan between the Caspian and Black seas, as well as Central Asia. It was first brought to the United States in the 1900s, as it was highly desired for its ornamental uses in gardens or arboretums. Once planted, it quickly escaped cultivation and spread.

According to Kraus, the plant was present in Rochester’s Highland Park as early as 1917.

Recently, giant hogweed has been spotted in Caroline, Danby, Dryden, Enfield, Hector, Lansing, Newfield, Trumansburg, and Ulysses. Dryden and Trumansburg are new additions this year. However, the plant’s population is under control.

“DEC crews are making great strides in controlling the giant hogweed plants in Tompkins County – almost 40 percent of sites in Tompkins County had no plants after the 2017 field season due to prior control. At the end of 2017, there were 45 sites/properties in Tompkins County that had known giant plants and 28 sites that had no plants due to prior control efforts,” Kraus said.

If anyone spots what appears to be giant hogweed, the DEC recommends the following:

  1. Go to the DEC’s website in order to make a positive identification
  2. Take high resolution photos of the entire plant, as well as the stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds, making sure to keep a safe distance.
  3. report your findings to the DEC by emailing, call 845-256-3111 or text 518-320-0309

Featured image: “Giant Hogweed – Heracleum mantegazzianum” by FreeUsePhotos/Flickr.