Plant that causes third-degree burns and blindness spotted in Shenandoah Valley

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

Giant hogweed, which is now federally classified as a noxious weed, has been found in Virginia for the first time, the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech announced last week.

The New York Department of Conservation website states that anyone who comes into contact with giant hogweed should immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and keep out of sunlight for 48 hours.

The sap of giant hogweed, found in its stem, contains toxic chemicals called "furanocoumarins".

Several plants are often confused with giant hogweed, including cow parsnip, angelica, Queen Anne's lace, wild parsnip, and poison hemlock. Giant Hogweed is an invasive species that has never been seen before in Virginia.

According to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, the plant can grow anywhere between 8 to 14 feet tall when it's flowering.

These plants had previously been found growing in other parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England, including in New York, Pennsylvania, and MA; and in the Pacific Northwest in OR and Washington. The toxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after coming into contact with the toxic photochemicals, so you must get out of the sun. Call your health care provider in case of a severe reaction.

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There has been reports of giant hogweed in Australia with the plant collected in Adelaide in 2007, according to the Department of Environment and Energy.

Although it may sound like a monster from a classic B-movie, giant hogweed is very real and it's also more than a little bit risky. A towel or compress soaked in aluminum acetate, which you can purchase from pharmacies, provides temporary relief for skin irritations. These plants are hard to be recognized and could easily be misunderstood for the other non-dangerous plants like the Cow Parsnip and the Queen Anne's Lace.

Debra Martin, a program manager with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said officials are formulating a plan to respond to the discovery. "There is a strong possibility that the Giant Hogweed could find its way into the Tidewater/Coastal Virginia area".

The residents of Virginia are warned to not use a weed whacker, lawn mower or a chainsaw in order to remove it, as this can result in the sap getting scattered. If you somehow get the sap in your eyes, it can blind you. Seek advice from professional plant control specialists about management options.

Knowing what to look for and how to handle it could help you avoid a serious injury.

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