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Why you should beware the giant hogweed plant

The Great Outdoors may have just gotten a little less great thanks to a monstrous hairy plant coated in a toxic sap that is making its way to the South.

The giant hogweed is an invasive plant that is originally from the Caucasus mountain region of Eurasia. And while plants make their way over from Europe and up from South America all the time, there are few plants like the giant hogweed. Not only can it grow as high as 14 feet tall, but it is covered in a sap that is so toxic it can cause painful burns, scarring, and possibly even blindness.

Now researchers have just confirmed that this federally listed so-called noxious weed has been spotted in Virginia for the first time. It’s the latest name in a growing list of states where the monstrous plant has been found, including North Carolina, as well as states across the country including Maine, Connecticut, Michigan, Illinois, and Oregon.

» Giant hogweed sends Virginia teen to hospital with third-degree burns

» Dangerous plant that causes blindness, 3rd degree burns found in multiple states, officials say

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The plant is downright vicious. Virginia teenager Alex Childress was working as a landscaper this summer to earn money for his freshman year at Virginia Tech when he ran into a “tall plant topped with white flowery blooms.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that when he chopped down the plant, a few leaves brushed his arms and face and he ended up covered in its toxic sap. "I started rubbing my face," he told People. Childress was taken to the Virginia Commonwealth University's burn center for two days, where he was treated and released for second- and third-degree burns on his face and arms. He now must avoid the sun for up to six months, but will hopefully still attend Virginia Tech in the fall.

The culprit is a chemical in the sap called furanocoumarins which can cause severe burns when exposed to UV light from the sun, even when the painful blisters subside, permanent scarring can remain. 

To identify a giant hogweed, look for a plant with rapid-fire growth and has white flowers one to two feet across, as well as five-foot-wide lobed, jagged leaves. It looks a lot like an overgrown Queen Ann’s Lace or wild parsnip.

If you think you have a giant hogweed in your backyard, do not try to take it down yourself. Instead, call the local department of agriculture or natural resources agency and ask for guidance.

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