Giant hogweed can cause severe burns, blisters, painful skin irritation, and even blindness
Described as Britain’s ‘most dangerous plant’, the poisonous weed can grow up to 20 feet tall and spread to cover around two meters of ground.
The plant recently left a 4-year-old child in Bolton with third-degree burns after touching him while playing at Longsight Park.
This led to her developing severe blisters that required hospital treatment, prompting the girl’s elementary school to warn parents.
What is Giant Bear Claw?
The giant hogweed, also known by its Latin name Heracleum mantegazzianum, is native to southern Russia and Georgia and was first introduced to Britain from the Caucasus in the 19th century.
The earliest documented reference to the plant has been traced to the 1817 Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed List, which listed seeds of the plant.
It is part of the Apiaceae family, which includes well-known vegetables and herbs such as parsley, carrot, parsnip, coriander and cumin.
The plant has a thick green stem with purple and white hairs on it and can grow up to 20 feet tall while the thick leaves can grow to 5 feet wide. The flowers usually appear in June and July and are small and white and appear in clusters on “umbrella-like heads” pointing upwards.
Why is giant hogweed dangerous?
The sap is what makes giant hogweed so dangerous because it contains a chemical called furocoumarin, which makes skin sensitive to the sun and can cause painful blistering.
In the short term, touching the plant can cause blisters, rashes, and inflamed or irritated skin, but the plant can have longer-lasting effects.
Those worst affected could suffer possible disfigurement, long-lasting purple spots, and skin irritation that can last months or even years after contact with the plant.
Giant hogweed can also damage more than skin. If the sap gets in your eyes, it can cause temporary or permanent damage, and inhaling sap particles can cause breathing problems.
Most people who come into contact with the plant require hospitalization.
Pet owners are also urged to exercise caution, as the plant can have side effects similar to those experienced by dogs.
What should I do if giant hogweed touches my skin?
If you accidentally get Giant Bear Claw Juice on your skin, health line says you should wash the area with mild soap and cold water as soon as possible, and keep skin covered when outdoors to protect it from sunlight.
If a rash or blister starts to form, you should see a doctor. The treatment required depends on how severe your reaction is.
Healthline explains: “Skin irritation that is caught early can be treated with a steroid cream and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to reduce pain.
“Severe burns may require surgery to graft new skin over the damaged skin.”
Where does giant hogweed occur?
The plant can be found throughout the UK, more specifically it will grow on river banks where the seeds are transported by water.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) also says areas affected by giant hogweed include “gardens and allotments adjacent to infected woodland, health land or common land”.
A map of the locations where the plant has been reported can be found on the WhatShed website.
What should I do if I find Giant Hogweed?
Anyone encountering the giant hogweed should keep their distance to avoid contact with it, as even the slightest touch can cause painful burns and blisters.
There is no legal obligation for landowners to get rid of giant hogweed, but local authorities can help arrange disposal to eliminate the infestation in public areas.