Published: Fri, June 22, 2018
Research | By Wilma Wheeler

Plant That Causes 3rd Degree Burns, Blindness Found in Virginia

Plant That Causes 3rd Degree Burns, Blindness Found in Virginia

"There is a strong possibility that the Giant Hogweed could find it's way into the Tidewater/Coastal Virginia area", the page warns. The plant can grow up to up to 14 feet, creating a lot of shade in the area and inhibiting the growth of native species. Earlier this month, scientists from The Massey Herbarium at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University penned a Facebook post announcing they'd identified Virginia's first giant hogweed.

The sap of this plant contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitising furanocoumarins. Each plant produces a few hundred seeds, which can be carried away by the wind or accidentally spread during soil transport. When these chemicals come into contact with human skin, it can cause a reaction that makes skin extremely sensitive to light.

If you suspect you've found a giant hogweed, you're asked to take photos of a leaf, stem and flower and contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, or fill out an online report.

The sap of a giant hogweed plant causes a skin reaction called phyto-photodermatitis, according to OSU Extension.


Giant hogweed is native to Southwest Asia, he said, and was first seen in the United States in 1917, when it was brought in for ornamental reasons. Compresses soaked in an aluminum acetate mixture - available at pharmacies - can provide relief for skin irritations.

The unsafe plant also grows in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

So what should you do if you accidently touch giant hogweed? And if the sap gets in your eyes, rinse them out as soon as you can, put on sunglasses and call your doctor.

Around the beginning of June, a Virginia Department of Transportation worker found another bunch of giant hogweed growing in Frederick County after quick-witted employees, recalling a U.S. Department of Agriculture warning about the plant some years ago, spotted it. The Berryville patch was planted by a previous owner, as the blooms, in a simpler time, were considered decorative.

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