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If You See This Plant, Don’t Touch It—Seriously

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 7/14/2018 Morgan Cutolo
a large green field with trees in the background © svetlana-81/Shutterstock SailsKool/Shutterstock

There’s a new invasive species that’s been spreading across the United States. It sounds like an evil creature straight out of a fairytale—and trust us, you should avoid it just the same.

This dangerous plant is called the giant hogweed and it’s been classified by the government as a noxious weed. It grows to about 14 feet tall and has a thick green, hairy stem with large leaves at the top and white flowers. The reason you should avoid touching it at all costs: It’s covered in toxic sap that can cause painful burns, scarring, and potential blindness. Make sure you’re also watching out for these other summer health dangers.

Giant hogweed is originally from the Caucasus mountain region of Eurasia and was brought over to the United States in the early 1900s through birds and waterways. Because of its large size, it produces about 20,000 seeds that can travel by wind and water thus making it very easy for it to take over. The non-native plant has now been identified in Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Washington, and Oregon.

The toxic chemical in the plant’s sap is called furanocoumarins. “The more sap you touch, the greater damage it causes,” Naja Kraus, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Giant Hogweed Program Coordinator, told “Once you get it on you, it makes your skin unable to protect itself from the sun.” Since your skin can’t protect itself it can easily become burned, blistered, and scarred.

An easy way to identify the plant it to look at its stems—they are thick and green with purple blotches and white hairs. It’s most commonly found in open areas (such as fields, yards, or forests) with lots of light and moist soil or in partially shaded areas along rivers, streams, and roads. If you ever come across it, report it to the Department of Environmental Conservation right away.

In the unfortunate case that you do come in contact with it, immediately wash the infected area with soap and water. You’ll most likely notice your skin start to react to it within 15 minutes. Dark blisters will form within two days. It’s very important to cover the area so that it isn’t exposed to any UV rays. The area will most likely scar, however, if it’s exposed to the sun, the scars will last for years.

Giant hogweed sounds very scary, but the most important thing to remember is what it looks like and to keep an eye on your surroundings when in environments where it could be present. Next, read about these (much safer) plants that can naturally detoxify your home.

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