The state is working to control a dangerous, invasive plant that’s making its way across the country. A pest alert has been issued to warn people about the situation.
The giant hogweed has sap that can create horrible injuries for those who come into contact with it.
“What’s dangerous about it is the sap can get on your skin and cause blisters when it reacts with the sun. If you would to get this sap in your eyes, it’ll cause blindness,” said Dr. Bridget Lassiter, a weed specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
One of the problems with the hogweed is that it looks a lot like other plants like elderberry, which is very common in Wake County and other areas. It can also be mistaken for Queen Anne’s lace as well as cow parsnip.
Lassiter said the difference between giant hogweed and cow parsnip are minute and include the kind of hair on the stem of the plant and how dissected the leaves are.
“Giant Hogweed leaves are huge, and look like your hand and are the size of a basketball,” she said.
Hogweed was brought to this country from Europe 200 years ago as an ornamental plant before people realized how dangerous it could be. Now it’s considered an invasive species.
It’s tough to get rid of once it’s growing. The blisters it creates on the skin can last for months to years, as well as leave permanent scars.
Giant hogweed is also on a federal list of noxious weeds. The U.S. government also tracks its spread around the country.
Besides North Carolina, giant hogweed been reported in 13 other states as well as Washington D.C.
In North Carolina, the only reported outbreak is in Watauga County.
Lassiter said a homeowner near Blowing Rock planted the giant hogweed to prevent soil erosion years ago and later gave seeds to a number of neighbors. The state discovered the infestation in 2010 and has been working to get rid of it ever since in a half dozen locations in that county.
“We use herbicides — we don’t want to touch the plant, dig up the plant or cut anything off,” Lassiter said. “We don’t want any contact with the sap.”
She added that there are reports that the sap can even permeate rubber gloves.
With seeds that can stay viable for at least 10 years, there’s worry animals or water can spread it.
“We have a zero tolerance policy for this plant because we don’t want it getting into the environment and naturalizing,” Lassiter said.
She said North Carolina Department of Agriculture specialists are constantly looking for the plant all the time.
Because it can be mistaken for other things like elderberry or cow parsnip, the state weed specialist said she gets a lot worried inquiries. Some came from people who’ve spotted cow parsnip, which grows freely in the mountains and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Lassiter said they respond to those calls by sending a plant specialist to take a first-hand look. So far, all the giant hogweed reports have proved negative.
Anyone with a concern about a plant can call Lassiter directly at 919-707-3749, or send her pictures via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The state agriculture also website has a way to report an invasive plant here: email@example.com.