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Giant Hogweed   Photo:  NYS DEC
Giant Hogweed Photo: NYS DEC

Look out for Giant Hogweed

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State environmental officials are trying to nip a huge, dangerous plant in the bud.

The giant hogweed, a monster plant with flowers the size of umbrellas and sap that causes blisters and blindness, is spreading across New York. The Department of Environmental Conservation is asking for help locating outbreaks.

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Environmental officials around the state are warning people to look out for a huge noxious plant with flowers the size of umbrellas and sap that causes skin burns and blindness.

Nichelle Billhardt is district manager of the Lewis County Soil and Water District, where they’ve had Giant Hogweed outbreaks. She said it has a large hollow stem, and unfortunately, that means kids like to play with it – blowing or looking through the stem. But she says it’s toxic.

"Touching it, it’s really the exposure of the skin to the sap and exposure of your skin to sunlight, and that’s what causes the third degree like burns that can be persistent several years after the burn actually occurs," Billhardt said.

Billhardt said environmental officials are trying to help people identify and get rid of Giant Hogweed. 

The state DEC has set up a Giant Hogweed Hotline:  845-256-3111 for people to call to report sightings.

She says it looks a lot like Cow Parsnip but that you can tell the difference. Cow parsnip has a purple tint to the stem while Giant Hogweed has purple splotches. Giant Hogweed can also grow up to 15 feet tall – twice as tall as Cow Parsnip.

This is the DEC's fourth year trying to control Giant Hogweed.  Six crews totaling 14 people will visit most of the the 944 known outbreak sites.  Sites with fewer than 400 plants will be controlled by hand-cutting their roots.  Sites with more than 400 plants will be controlled with herbicide.

For people trying to control Giant Hogweed themselves, Billhardt says be careful using over-the counter-herbicide because the plant can be resistant to some chemicals. She recommends putting on protective gear before trying to dig up roots.

If the plant has a seed pod or flower, get rid of them by "taking those flower heads and putting them in garbage bags, black garbage bags, and keeping them out in the sun to kill the seeds -  not allow the seeds to establish themselves, " Billhardt said.

Billhardt says they’ve seen outbreaks along Black River and on Lake Road in Lewis County. She says officials think this outbreak started because someone in Rochester planted Giant Hogweed for its huge ornamental flower.

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