Giant hogweed is a growing problem but crews are on their way to eradicate it

Somebody spotted what they thought was a giant hogweed plant growing along the roadside on Route 245 in Naples this week and sent a photo to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Sure enough, it was the dangerous weed that looks oh-so-pretty, with its huge umbrella-shaped, lily-white flower topping a plant often taller than a standing elephant.

A number of years ago, the DEC cracked down on the weed that can raise so much havoc the federal government put it on its hit list. Coming in contact with the weed’s sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness. The Finger Lakes region is especially friendly to giant hogweed because the plant grows well along streams and rivers, in fields and forests. Roadsides and people's yards aren’t immune, either.

Naja Kraus, a forest health research scientist with a division of the DEC, said after the first reported sighting of the plant in Naples this week, another person who saw the same plant spray-painted it orange to warn people, before sending in their photo. Thanks to citizens’ reports, the DEC added this area in Naples as a new site for control when time allows, Kraus said.

Statewide, the DEC has nine crews attacking giant hogweed, with 15 seasonal field technicians controlling and surveying giant hogweed sites statewide using both manual and chemical controls.

On Wednesday, DEC giant hogweed labor supervisor Bob Slocum worked in a field on a private property off Daansen Road in Macedon, Wayne County. Slocum sprayed the weed with herbicide, a chemical treatment used when there is no rain. Other techniques include cutting the flower part of the plant off and digging the plant out by the roots.

Slocum had help from Luria Lee, an intern from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Lee sprayed a plant that was at least four feet taller than she is. Crews wear protective gear to avoid skin contact with the toxic plant. The work requires careful handling to remove and bag the flowers that contain the seeds.

An average plant contains 20,000 seeds and those seeds spread, making new plants. Most seeds fall near the plant, within 30 feet, and wind disperses others over short distances. Water disperses seeds much farther, and seeds can float up to three days.

The DEC says people can either knowingly or unwittingly spread seeds by sharing seeds and seedlings with other gardeners, improperly disposing flower heads, transporting seed-laden soil during construction or mowing along roadsides. Seeds can also move in wind currents generated along highways and railroads from fast-moving vehicles.

Homeowners can control giant hogweed themselves following proper safety precautions, along with reporting hogweed so it can be tracked for the DEC’s control efforts. It's best to contact the DEC before trying to deal with giant hogweed yourself, to make sure you are handling it safely and properly removing it. People need to cover their eyes and all skin by dressing in protective attire that includes boots, gloves and eye protection, and wash up afterward.

“As long as we have funding, we can control the plants for landowners since we have the safety equipment and experience,” the DEC states.

When the DEC removes flower heads, they are cut and placed in clear plastic bags for one to two weeks to bake in the sun and are then disposed of. The DEC also provides training to landowners or agencies interested in doing their own control.

Since the DEC began control efforts about a decade ago, 823 sites — 39 percent of sites previously infested statewide — no longer contain giant hogweed. In Ontario County, at the end of 2016 there were 24 sites with hogweed plants, down by three sites from 27 in 2014. Because of the control program, the number of sites with no plants in the county jumped by 10, from 22 in 2014 to 32 at the end of last year, according to the DEC. Also, the three largest sites with hogweed in Ontario County shrunk. In 2016, two sites had dropped from having more than 1,000 plants, while another site dropped from having between 400 and 999 plants.

Actually a herb in the carrot family, giant hogweed prefers open sites with abundant light and moist soil — but it can grow in partially shaded areas, too. Maps show areas around the state where hogweed is most active and where it’s been treated and eliminated.

If you come in contact with giant hogweed, you should immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and keep the area away from sunlight for at least 48 hours. If the sap gets in your eyes, rinse them with water and wear sunglasses — and seek medical care immediately. Topical or oral steroids applied early can help reduce the severity of the reaction and ease discomfort. If a reaction occurs, the affected area may be sensitive to sunlight for a few weeks and should be covered or kept out of the sun when possible, the DEC notes.

Learn more at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/39809.html; email ghogweed@dec.ny.gov or call the Hotline: 845-256-3111.

 

 

Harmed by hogweed?

 

What should you do if you come in contact with giant hogweed?

 

— Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water.

 

— Keep the affected area away from sunlight for at least 48 hours.

 

— If the sap gets into your eyes, rinse them with water and wear sunglasses. Seek medical care immediately.

 

— Topical or oral steroids applied early can help reduce the severity of the reaction and ease discomfort.

 

— If a reaction has occurred, the affected area may be sensitive to sunlight for a few weeks and should be covered or kept out of the sun when possible.