Touching the plant can cause severe burns, a reaction making skin sensitive to light, and even blindness.
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.
Giant Hogweed is commonly found in vacant lots, on roadsides and riverbanks this time of year. This plant grows up to the height of 14 feet with thick leaves stretching 2 to 5 feet across and large clusters of white flowers in an UMBRELLA PATTERN.
"Property owners who think they spot Giant Hogweed should not panic", Jordan Metzgar, curator of the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, said. But according to Sara Chodosh of Popular Science, the plant has never before been seen in Virginia, and rarely that far south. Warnings have been issued in previous years after discoveries in Michigan, New York and elsewhere in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
The plant's watery sap contains photosensitizing agents. "And, if the sap gets in your eyes, there is the potential for blindness". Another lovely detail: Before death, a single hogweed plant can release up to 120,000 seeds capable of traveling long distances through water and wind before finding a new place to call home.
Recent sightings in OH include a giant hogweed plant in Pepper Pike, according to the Cleveland Metroparks. "The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact". "There have been reports from VDOT of sightings of Giant Hogweed in the Staunton area and Middlesex County", they said.
These pesky plants spread when birds and waterways carry seeds to new locations.
So what should you do if you accidently touch giant hogweed? The problem comes if you disturb it by, say, putting a weed wacker to it. Instead, seek advice from professional plant control specialists.
Giant hogweed is native to Central and Southeast Asia.