Beware: The giant hogweed lurks

Beware: The giant hogweed lurks

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Courier-Post Columnist

How about this to get you into the Halloween mood?
There's a plant out there so vile, so evil it would permanently disfigure you, even blind you for simply breaking its stalk.

In fact, Genesis, the 1970s progressive-rock band, wrote an ode to its malevolent ways, imploring: "Stamp them out! We must destroy them, they infiltrate each city with their thick dark warning odour."

Something straight out of Little Shop of Horrors? Pretty close.

It's giant hogweed, New Jersey's latest hostile invader.

A native of central Asia, giant hogweed resembles Queen Anne's lace or cow parsnip - only pumped up on steroids. Big time.

Giant hogweed grows 10 to 15 feet high, sometimes even higher. That's a mighty big weed, and easily three to four times the height of its more common and benign cousins.

Its hollow and hairy stem emits a watery sap containing a powerful toxin that can cause blisters, scarring and even permanent blindness. Sunlight triggers the release of toxins from the sap once on the skin.

New Jersey's first infestation was discovered in July, along a rushing stream on a farm in Mendham, Morris County. State officials destroyed six or seven larger plants plus several smaller ones.

State officials don't know the source, but expect seeds washed from somewhere upstream, possibly from a site where hogweed had been planted as an ornamental. Hogweed is considered quite showy despite its sinister tendencies.

Giant hogweed has spread fairly rapidly throughout neighboring Pennsylvania and New York over the past several years.

The Keystone State has been heavily infested in the area around Erie. The plant has also been reported in the Poconos and in Chester County, southwest of Philadelphia.

The Morris County scenario could be playing out in other parts of the state. "We expect that we will find it elsewhere," said Carl Schulze Jr., director of the Division of Plant Industry for the state's Department of Agriculture.

While he is asking residents to report any plants they come across, Schulze doesn't expect an all-out war on hogweed. That's because his resources are directed at an invasion of the tree-munching Asian longhorned beetle in three North Jersey counties.

"At present, we'll go out and try to eradicate (hogweed)," he said. "If it turns out to be more widespread than we anticipated, then we'll go to an education program."

Schulze points out that simply brushing against the plant won't release the toxin. The stalk must be broken.

"I wouldn't really characterize this as the most evil plant," he said. "It's got some dangerous characteristics."

Frankly, it's hard to imagine any plant much worse. It certainly gives new meaning to the saying, "Leaves of three, leave them be."

The burning blisters caused by the plant's toxin can take a month to heal, and often require intravenous antibiotics and cortisone shots. It leaves purplish blotches that may never heal.

Dr. Leonard Bielory of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark doubts most doctors are even familiar with the plant.

Immediate medical attention, including having the affected areas of the skin treated with topical steroids to prevent potential permanent skin damage, is essential, he said. But the best defense is to avoid it.

"If you see something that looks like Queen Anne's lace by a river," Bielory said, "just don't touch it."

Point taken.

Ben Ruset

Site Administrator
Oct 12, 2004
Eatontown, NJ
Here's a pic.


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Site Administrator
Jul 31, 2004
Ben's Branch, Stephen Creek
Wow, I know what that is! It grows wild by the road near my place in upstate NY (near lake Ontario). Very impressive looking stuff... I never realized it could be harmful. We used to call them "triffids" as a joke...