Giant Hogweed

Usually, the phone calls sent to the Education Department involve birds. We call out, “Stupid bird question on line one.” Of course, the questions are rarely stupid and we actually enjoy the break in our day… a chance to help someone with a Real Puzzle or Problem.

A couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t a bird question, though. It was a flower question. A very nice lady from Lakewood, NY called and described in excellent detail a flower that is growing in her backyard – at the back of the mowed bit – just in the tree line separating her property from her neighbor’s. I was pretty sure from her description that she had a rather nasty, noxious plant called Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) … which I had only read about and never seen. I asked if I might drop by to see it. She said, “Yes, of course.” I advised her not to touch it or try to remove it as it could give her a nasty reaction.

Giant Hogweed and Bob

Bob is six feet, one inch tall... for comparison...

It was, just as she described it, about seven feet tall. Giant Hogweed can get to be as high as fifteen feet, according to the literature.  The flat cluster of white flowers reminds you of Queen Anne’s Lace – but it is much bigger and does not have the curly bracts underneath.

Giant Hogweed

The stem is thick and sturdy – green, and colored with deep reddish purple reminding you of rhubarb. Giant Hogweed The deeply cut leaves are two or three feet across (and can get to be five feet across).

I found some literature for the discoverer of the plant. I also called the DEC Hogweed Hotline where I was able to leave a message on the voice mail. The answering machine voice told me that this is their busy season and it may take a while to get back to me…  As of this writing, it has been about two weeks and I haven’t heard a thing yet.

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Giant Hogweed was probably brought to Europe and North America from it’s native range in Central and South Asia to be used as an ornamental in gardens.  It’s large size made it unique and appealing to gardeners with a penchant for the exotic.  Seeds spread by wind and water, and the plant can also spread from the strong root stock, so the plants we now find along roadsides, railbeds, and stream banks are most likely escapees from someone’s garden.

Unfortunately, it is not a happy match for humans.  Get sap on your skin and then expose that skin to sun and you are likely to break out in a nasty rash.  Get the sap in your eyes and you may suffer temporary or even permanent blindness!

I have mixed feelings.  While I’m happy to have finally seen this plant in person, I’m not happy that it is growing in Chautauqua County!

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5 thoughts on “Giant Hogweed

  1. I’m glad you got the chance to see it and I hope I never have to. Nasty stuff. Bob looks like he’s in the lawn scene in Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

  2. The last few year, these (or what I was referring to as Angelica – I’ll have to go double check now) have been taking over this area. They are everywhere, and babies are growing out of the same holes as wanted plants are growing, making it next to impossible to weed. I hate them, and although the meadow next to mine is blanketed in them, I try to keep them from flowering and spreading seed in my meadow. It’s 2.5 acres, so it’s quite a job. I HATE them. Thanks for this post. ~karen

  3. I’ve not seen this plant but several related plants can cause a reaction similar to what you’ve described. I had blisters on my hands and legs from contact with the herb, Angelica archangelica. Some people actually screamed when they saw me. My dermatologist told me that I had the kind of rash that workers that harvest celery sometimes get. Celery, angelica, and I suspect Hogweed are all in the parsley family. A friend sent me info from Wisconsin Natural Resources that wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) also causes what they called “parsnip burn.” I had no idea that a new species was now invading. Thanks for the info!

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