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Officials Warn Toxic Weed That Causes Blindness, Burns Is Spreading Across America

Terry English - Bugwood.org

Giant hogweed is a beautiful flowering plant with an ugly name, and an even uglier reason to keep your distance.

As researchers confirm a new crop of this plant has sprouted in Virginia, they're warning people across the country to be on the lookout.

An invasive species

Giant hogweed
Joe Perreira

Giant hogweed traces its roots back to Central Asia, where it was found and brought back to Europe and America as a garden plant.

The plant's distinctive look made it a popular choice - it grows up to 14 feet high, with five-foot leaves and small white flowers that grow in an umbrella shape.

But its beautiful appearance only makes giant hogweed more dangerous.

Giant hogweed
Toxic bristles on giant hogweed.King County

The plant's massive stalk, leaves, flowers, and sap are all toxic. Exposure to the chemicals on the plant makes your skin extremely light sensitive, causing third-degree burns and scarring blisters.

Some research even says that if sap gets in your eye, you can be permanently blinded by a hogweed plant.

A growing problem

Giant hogweeds can drop thousands of seeds that continue to grow for up to a decade. Other seeds are carried to new locations by birds, or rivers and steams.

Today, they can be found throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest.

Giant hogweed
Henry Clark

Sightings are most common in the following states:

Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and now Virginia.

If you see hogweed, report it to local authorities or call a plant control specialist, and mark the plant's location to warn others.

Before the plant is fully grown, it can resemble wild carrot blooms, angelica, or Queen Anne's lace.

Do not try to cut down or mow the plant - you could release more seeds or get sap on yourself.

Giant hogweed
Let experts deal with this plant.New York State - Department of Environmental Conservation

If you must touch hogweed, wear rubber gloves and clothing with long sleeves and pant legs. Carefully remove any clothes with hogweed sap on them and wash them in warm, soapy water.

If you touch giant hogweed with your bare skin, wash the area under cold water immediately, keep it out of the sunlight, and get medical treatment.

Let's spread the warning about this dangerous plant.

More surprising stories about dangerous plants:

[H/T: CBS News, USA Today]

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