Dangerous Plant Threatening Appalachia: Burns & Blinds Victims

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PHOTO: GIant Hogweed, Provided by Commonwealth of Virginia
PHOTO: GIant Hogweed, Provided by Commonwealth of Virginia

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has confirmed the presence of Giant hogweed in the state, as a 17-year-old incoming Virginia Tech freshman has been treatment for burns to his face and arm from the sap of highly noxious weed originating from Asia.

The 17-year-old who was working a landscaping job for the summer came in contact with the plant and subsequently suffered second- and third-degree burns.

“The top layer of skin on the left side of his face basically was gone and appeared to be like a really bad burn that had already peeled,” stated the boy’s father according to Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

As of now, the plant has been reported in Clarke County, Virginia, and in Fredricksburg; however, agriculture officials from throughout the Appalachian region are fearful that the invasive plant could be spreading into the mountains.

Last month, WVU Extension asked residents of the Mountain State to be on the lookout for the invasive plant, warning them not to touch the plant.

Virginia officials say it is their goal to eradicate the state of the plant before it becomes established.

When exposed to skin, the sap from a Giant hogweed plant can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering and permanent scarring. The plant is easily confused with other look alike plants such as elderberry and cow parsnip. People who think they have found Giant hogweed should take a digital photo of the leaf, stem and flower — then notify state officials.

Giant hogweed is a very distinct plant when set against the Appalachian landscapes and although it has some similar characteristics as cow parsnip, angelica and Queen Anne’s lace, its size sets it apart. It can grow upwards of 15 feet tall with leaves as large as five feet across. The white flower cluster can contain 50 – 150 flower rays spreading up to two feet across.

Should residents of any Appalachian state believe they have seen this plant, they are encouraged to contact their state office immediately.

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