A plant the Department of Environmental Conservation has dubbed the 'Horror Plant' is spreading in Central New York and across upstate.

Giant Hogweed is considered a "noxious weed" by the Federal government - which is an understatement, considering the damage it can do. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness. Contact between the skin and the sap of this plant happens when you brush against the bristles on the stem or break the stem or leaves. The DEC has an entire section of their website dedicated to this dangerous plant.

How Can You Identify Giant Hogweed?

Giant hogweed is a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae) which can grow to 14 feet or more. Its hollow, ridged stems grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. Its large compound leaves can grow up to 5 feet wide. Its white flower heads can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter. If you think you see Giant Hogweed, look for these characteristics:

White flowers with 50-150 flower rays clustered into an umbrella shaped flower cluster up to 2.5 feet across

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

Between 7 and 14 feet tall (depending upon growth stage and if mowed or cut)

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

Huge leaves, incised and deeply lobed up to 5 feet across

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

Stems are green with extensive purple splotches and prominent coarse white hairs. Stems are also hollow, ridged, 2-4 inches in diameter, and have a thick circle of hairs at base of leaf stalk

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

Seeds are dry, flattened, and oval. Approximately 3/8 inch long and tan with brown lines (oil tubes) extending 3/4 of the seed length that widen at ends

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

What should you do if you come in contact with Giant Hogweed?

Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and keep the area away from sunlight for 48 hours. This plant poses a serious health threat; see your physician if you think you have been burned by giant hogweed, per the DEC.  If you think you have giant hogweed on your property, do NOT touch it.

The sap in Giant hogweed makes your skin extremely sensitive to sunlight resulting in serious burns. Sweat or moisture can make it worse. The phototoxic reaction can begin as soon as 15 minutes after contact, with sensitivity peak between 30 minutes and two hours after contact.

Here's an example of a burn from these plant (sorry - these pictures are gross.)

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov - Photo by Bob Kleinberg
Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov - Photo by Bob Kleinberg

Where Can You Find Giant Hogweed?

Short answer: all over the place. The DEC keeps track of where they have found and eradicated the plant, for obvious reasons.

Credit: DEC via dec.ny.gov

For more information on this very harmful plant, or to report a possible sighting of Giant Hogweed, visit the DEC's website at dec.ny.gov - they provided all the information in this story.