Giant Hogweed in the Mallings

The Mallings might have some lovely walks, but if you’re out and about this summer, you might want to keep an eye out for a rather unpleasant visitor that was recently spotted in our lovely district: Giant hogweed.

 

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is considered one of the most dangerous plants of the countryside. It is not native to the UK, originating in the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia. It was introduced in the 19th Century as an ornamental plant, but ended up spreading in the wild, and can now be found in various parts of the UK.

 

The sap of giant hogweed contains a substance called furocoumarin, which makes skin extremely sensitive to sunlight. If you get hogweed sap on your skin and then that skin is exposed to sunlight, it will cause severe burns and blistering. The reaction doesn’t stop there, though; once burned by hogweed sap, a person can experience the symptoms for years afterward.

 

Giant hogweed is a member of the Apiaceae family, which means it is related to other plants like carrots, parsley, parsnip, cumin, and coriander. Unfortunately, this means it is very visually similar to other common plants, and can be easily confused with its harmless lookalikes.

 

Giant hogweed looks very like a giant cow parsley; it is a tall plant with huge jagged leaves that look a little like rhubarb leaves. The stem is green with livid red-purple blotches and stiff white hairs. The flowers are small and white, and form in upward-facing clusters known as umbels that can reach up to 60cm in diameter. Two of its doppelgangers are common hogweed and cow parsley; however, common hogweed, which is not toxic, has a smooth stem without blotches and rounder leaves, and cow parsley (also known as Queen Anne’s Lace) has feathery leaves and its umbels are much smaller.

 

If you are unfortunate enough to come into contact with giant hogweed, wash the exposed area, stay out of sunlight, and seek medical attention. Giant hogweed is classed as an invasive species, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to plant or cause giant hogweed to grow in the wild.

 

by Alice Smales

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