Beware of the hogweed! That might sound like something from Harry Potter and his Herbology lessons, but it’s a very real warning.
The pesky plant has been causing trouble over the last few weeks, with reports of children being severely burnt and blistered by its menacing touch.
What is Giant Hogweed and what does it looks like?
Giant hogweed, or Heracleum mantegazzianum, to give it its full name, is part of the carrot family.
Also a close relative of cow parsley, it can easily be mistaken for common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), elderflower (Sambucus spp, and commonly found in your summer drinks) and Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), with its white flowers and thick stems.
Giant Hogweed can grow up to 3.5m (11.5ft) high and can span around 1m (3.5ft). The flower heads can be as large as 60cm (2ft) across. Its dark green toothy leaves go with the white flowers, which are produced in large umbrella-like clusters. To top it off, each plant can produce approximately 50,000 seeds.
Where is it from?
The giant hogweed was brought to the UK from Central Asia in 1893, and is now a common sight on river banks, canal towpaths, woodland and heathland.
Where did it come from?
The giant hogweed was first brought to Britain from Central Asia at the end of the 19th century as an ornamental plant, but has since escaped domestication.
Now, it is mostly found growing alongside footpaths and riverbanks, but can also be spotted in parks and cemeteries.
What does it do to you?
Chemicals in the plant cause photodermatitis, which makes the skin sensitive to sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet light. It can therefore cause skin to blister or become pigmented, causing long-lasting scars, according to the Royal Horticultural Society.
Simply brushing against or touching the plant is enough to release the sap, and can cause serious burns within around 24 hours. If the sap comes into contact with the eyes, it can cause temporary or permanent blindness.
Blistering can re-occur for many years.
What should you do if you come in contact with it?
Wash the affected area well with soap and cold water as soon as possible, and cover it up. Keep the area away from sunlight for 48 hours, but see a medical professional if you have a reaction to it.
Has it actually hurt anyone, or is this just scaremongering?
Yes, five children in the Greater Manchester area have been badly burned by hogweed in the last week.
One girl has been left with a permanent scar after her arm touched a hogweed plant during a walk in Clifton Country Park in Salford, while four teenage boys have suffered chemical burns after coming into contact with hogweed in Moses Gate Country Park in Bolton.
How to get rid of it, if you see it?
If you’re not an expert, it’s best to avoid it entirely, but if you find yourself in charge of removing some giant hogweed, don’t touch the plant with your bare skin. Instead, use long waterpoof gloves and cover up around it, wearing eye protection in case the sap splatters out.
Apply suncream before beginning to work as an extra precaution, and try and avoid working with the plants while the sun is bright. After sunset is an ideal time when trying to control the plant.