A dangerous weed is spreading across Western New York, and there is more of it and around Monroe County than the rest of the state.
It is called giant hogweed and can cause painful burns, scarring, and even blindness. One group that is part of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) is spending the summer removing plants across the state. A large half acre area in Hamlin is next up for removal and requires hazmat suits.
“There’s sap all over the plant,” said Alex McGraw, leading the group that was destroying the weed. “But most of it’s on the stem and in the coarse hairs.” That sap is what is harmful to humans. The reaction occurs as the sap mixes with sunlight. It is important to wash yourself immediately with cold water and do not expose yourself to sunlight.
The plant was once an ornamental plant that was brought over from Eurasia in the early 1900’s and was first found locally in 1917 at Highland Park.
“It is a beautiful big white flower, but little did people know it can spread 20,000 seeds and spread like wildfire,” said McGraw. The seeds are able to travel best by water and can go miles in a river before planting again.
It takes about three to five years for the plant to fully mature before the seeding stage. Workers will use herbicide to kill the plant before the seeds come out. If they do the removal will take a lot longer, with more precaution
“We collect the seed heads,” said Joe Ordway, a team member of the group. “Let them decompose in a bag so they’re no longer viable, they can’t reproduce, and we dispose of them.” The giant hogweed can be identified by serrated leaves, the tall nature of the plant, and giant flowers.
The team is continuing to eradicate all plants across New York. “We’re going to keep chipping away at our sites until eventually there’s zero plants.”
If you positively identify a giant hogweed plant, take a picture of the entire plant and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the giant hogweed hotline at 1-845-256-3111.
Control of the plants in Monroe and Wayne Counties is funded through a cooperative agreement with USDA NRCS and the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
The 5th Annual NY Invasive Species Awareness Week will be July 8-14. You can find more information here.