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Hikers Beware: Skin Irritating Giant Hogweed Is Spreading Across States

Giant hogweed plants have begun sprouting up all over America, and environmental experts are warning naturists to beware of their harmful sap.

Men’s Health recently reported on the dangers of giant hogweed. The invasive plants can grow to be 14 feet tall, so while they’re certainly an ecological spectacle, you won’t want to get too close — this plant’s sap can cause painful burns, scarring, and in rare cases, even blindness.

“The more sap you touch, the greater damage it causes,” Naja Kraus, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Giant Hogweed Program Coordinator, told GoodHouseKeeping.com. “Once you get it on you, it makes your skin unable to protect itself from the sun.”

The sap contains toxic chemicals called furanocoumarins which cause severe burns when exposed to UV light from the sun. This reaction is referred to as phytophotodermatitis, which Kraus explained fuses your DNA in that particular area.

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Via Decoded Science

When your skin comes in contact with giant hogweed, dark, painful blisters will develop within two days. Once the blisters have gone, you’ll be left with purplish or brown scars and a sensitivity to sunlight that can last for several years.

Giant hogweed plants have been spotted in various states across America. Although native to the Caucasus mountain region of Eurasia, the plant was brought to the U.S. in the early 1900s for the allure of its giant height and flowers. It produces 20,000 seeds which can travel 30 feet from the plant and even farther through water or air, so it didn’t take long for these dangerous plants to start spreading across the country. Not only are these plants harmful to humans, they're also considered an environmental hazard and can reduce plant diversity, Kraus said.

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If you’re worried about coming across giant hogweed in your backyard, here are some tips on how to identify the plant so you can avoid it.

First, it’s important to note that it takes giant hogweed about three to five years to grow to 14 feet tall, so don’t just be on the lookout for towering plants in your garden. The seedlings and saplings start out much smaller.

via: ohioline.osu.edu

Giant hogweed plants have purple blotches and white hairs on the stems. They also typically grow in open areas with lots of light and moist soil, and in partially shaded areas, like along streams, rivers, roads, fields, forests, and yards.

If you see giant hogweed, the first step is to report it to your local authority, like the Department of Environmental Conservation, or a similar service who will either remove the plant themselves or advise you on how to do it safely.

Should you accidentally come in contact with any part of giant hogweed, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water to minimize the damage the sap can cause. You should also contact your physician if you experience a reaction — they may prescribe topical or oral steroids to reduce the severity of the sap’s effects.

Kraus recommended covering your skin with ace bandages or sun-protective clothing so the affected area has absolutely no contact with UV rays.

As the summer season continues and people set out to enjoy all that nature has to offer, it’s important to be able to identify giant hogweed and know what to do in case of accidental contact in order to keep yourself and the environment safe from the threat of these invasive plants.

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