WALES, N.Y. (WIVB) – At first glance, the giant hogweed might appear to be a large flower with round dainty blooms spreading from a large rugged stem. But make no mistake, a brush with the sap of this plant–a giant cousin of the carrot–can be a painful experience.
“Hogweed has a sap that causes bad burns,” cautioned Jeff Fridman, supervisor of a giant hogweed eradication crew, as they sprayed a stand of hogweed along the banks of Buffalo Creek in the Town of Wales.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation dispatches seasonal crews each year to respond to citizen reports of giant hogweed, and Fridman says Western New York has more than its share of the toxic plant.
Fridman describes the hogweed’s sap as an “anti-sunblock”.
“It causes your skin to not be able to reflect light–it absorbs the energy from the sun, and it gives you a really bad burn. So the combination of the plant and sunlight can damage your skin.”
So hogweed crews gear up in Tyvek suits, with respirators and safety glasses, to take on a dangerous health menace, a massive plant that can grow to 14′ tall, and sprout leaves 5′ wide.
Giant Hogweed has been known to cause third degree burns, an important reason for the safety glasses.
“You certainly wouldn’t want to get any kind of hogweed sap in the eye. It does not typically happen, but you want to be protected. Sap in the eye can cause blindness so we want to certainly protect your eyes.”
DEC disposes of hogweed in a couple of ways: by digging the weeds up at the root, when there are 400 or fewer plants present, or at larger stands by spraying with herbicide, as Fridman’s crew was doing for the second time at the location near Center Line Road.
“At herbicide sites we can control a lot of plants in a shorter amount of time. We will still spend a couple of hours at a site, but compared to digging, it is a lot less time.”
The giant hogweed is considered an invasive plant, and ecologists would like to eradicate it. If you come upon the giant hogweed, keep your distance from it, and report it to the DEC.
The state’s “Hogweed Hotline” is 1-845-256-3111, and officials will ask you to send a picture of the plant–there are a number of plants that are mistaken for giant hogweed.
DEC offers a guide in print and online to help identify giant hogweed, and descriptions of the hogweed lookalikes.