It’s big, it’s dangerous, and it could be in your backyard right now. No, it’s not a black bear or a mountain lion or even that crazy runaway baboon. It’s a plant.
Giant Hogweed is a huge monster of a plant with flowers the size of umbrellas. It can grow to be 14 feet tall. Its sap can burn the skin and has the potential to cause blindness. It is far worse than the usual rash caused by poison ivy or poison oak because the sap actually alters your skin, making it more susceptible to sun for years. It’s a condition known as photodermatitis, and it leaves the skin unable to protect itself from the sun, causing blisters and burns.
Giant Hogweed sounds like something in one of the Harry Potter books. I think Draco Malfoy tried to get Hermoine to eat one in a salad. In actuality, though, Giant Hogweed has been around New Jersey for quite some time. The plant originated overseas and was brought to the United States in the early twentieth century as an ornamental garden plant. And ornamental it was, too, until it maimed old Weeds McKinley, head gardener to a rich silk manufacturer in Paterson. As Weeds was led away to the hospital that fateful day, he raised a blistered fist and lamented, “I just wanted to make things pretty!”Seriously, though, the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York is working hard to eliminate or contain the growth of these plants, and to raise awareness about their danger. Apparently, the stalks are two to four inches in diameter and hollow, so some kids have been tempted to use them as telescopes, putting them up to their eyes. If you come into contact with one of these plants, don’t touch it with your bare skin or use a weed whacker on it – the sap may splatter. Don’t touch your eyes if you’ve been in contact with the sap. If you think you touched the sap, wash the exposed area thoroughly and avoid sunlight.