Invasive plant can cause severe burns, blindness

Giant hogweed which has a sap that can cause blisters and even blindness has been reported in Virginia

Giant hogweed which has a sap that can cause blisters and even blindness has been reported in Virginia

Officials in Virginia are warning people to be on the lookout after an invasive plant was found in the Northern part of the state that can cause third-degree burns and blindness.

The risky and invasive species Giant Hogweed continues its spread toward the Southeast.

"Giant hogweed makes poison ivy look like a walk in the park", said an official Facebook post from the Isle of Wight County where the plants were recently discovered.

Sap of the Giant hogweed contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitizing furanocoumarins.

It originated in Asia's Caucasus Mountains and, according to SUNY College at Brockport, one of the first North American plantings of giant hogweed was in Rochester, New York. When it blooms, there are small white flowers at the top that can be as much as 2-and-a-half feet in diameter.

Giant hogweed typically grows "along streams and rivers and in fields, forests, yards and roadsides" and most commonly spreads when its seeds are dispersed by waterways and animals. Their stems are green and hollow with purple splotches and "coarse white hairs".

Giant hogweed also produces thousands of dry, flat, oval seeds, which are about three-eighths of an inch long and have brown lines. Symptoms include painful blisters, which become darkly pigmented and can cause scars.

The sap of a giant hogweed plant causes a skin reaction called phyto-photodermatitis, according to OSU Extension.

If a person comes into contact with the plant and its sap, it is recommended they wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible and keep the exposed area away from sunlight for at least 48 hours.

More alarmingly, if the sap gets into a person's eyes, there is the potential for blindness, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

If a reaction occurs, topical steroids applied early can reduce its severity and ease discomfort.

Those bristles, along with the rest of the plant, emit a nasty sap that chemically irritates the skin, making it phototoxic, or highly reactive to sunlight and UV rays. Sunscreen can also help prevent further reactions and alleviate long-term sun sensitivity. Call your health care provider in case of a severe reaction.

Besides being incredibly unsafe, the giant hogweed is also very resilient.

If you notice the plant, say authorities, don't use a lawn mower, weed whacker, or chainsaw to remove it, as those methods can cause the sap to splatter.