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Charlotte Area News

Toxic Hogweed Plant Invades North Carolina County

The giant hogweed plant.
The giant hogweed plant.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture officials are asking residents to report possible sightings of the poisonous giant hogweed plant. Over the years the toxic plant has been found in several western and northeastern states, but it’s also been spotted in Virginia and at six sites in Watauga County in North Carolina.

The giant hogweed plant, which can grow up to 15 feet tall, can cause severe blisters and blindness if the sap from the plant touches the skin or gets in a person’s eye, says Charlotte’s assistant arborist Laurie Reid.

“The leaves and the stem can produce those chemicals, toxins which are activated by sunlight and it gets on your skin, it’s a clear sap, so once that gets in the sunlight it can start burning,” Reid said.

In North Carolina, officials say the plant, indigenous to Eastern Europe, was introduced by a homeowner for soil erosion purposes. Reid says the hogweed plant can spread to other areas by birds who eat the seeds it produces. Reid says the plant has unique characteristics and is easy for professionals to spot.

“It’s in the carrot family," Reid said. "The leaves can be 2.5 to 3 feet long. It will put up a really tall flower head that 20 inches to 2.5 feet across that’s white and kind of lace looking. It does look really pretty."

Pretty but dangerous. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, a teenager doing landscaping work was hospitalized this month in a burn unit with severe burns to his face and arms after coming in contact with a hogweed plant. His parents told media outlets that he has a long recovery ahead and a GoFundMe has been set up to help with his expenses.

State agriculture officials say they have quarantined the plant in Watauga County and are working to eradicate it.

Other plants look similar to the giant hogweed plant. Here's a resource to help you differentiate the plants: https://www.maine.gov/dacf/php/horticulture/hogweedlookalikes.shtml.