You’ve probably seen the scary news articles recently about Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a relative of the humble carrot. This is one time that the alarmist headlines have gotten it right. Don’t touch this plant. In fact, don’t even get near it. The sap of the Giant Hogweed can cause severe damage to skin and eyes, even resulting in permanent scarring or blindness.
This plant is worse than poison ivy. Fortunately it is a lot easier to notice in the field because Giant Hogweed really is a giant. It resembles a mutant Queen Anne’s Lace that has grown to 12 feet or more. Its 2-4 inch diameter stem is hollow, prominently ridged, green with purple blotches, sporting coarse white hairs. The leaves are large, deeply lobed and toothed. Its bloom is an umbrella-shaped cluster of many small white flowers. The cluster itself can be up to 2½ feet wide.
Of course it can be much shorter when young or if it gets mowed back. And there are other plants that look similar to Giant Hogweed–most notably Cow Parsnip. But my best advice is to keep your distance from anything that looks similar unless you are very experienced at plant identification.
If you think you see this plant, take a photo and contact New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at 845-256-3111. The Somers Land Trust would also appreciate hearing from you if you see it anywhere in Somers. (You can email me at LaurettaJones@somerslandtrust.org.)
Thankfully, this nasty import (brought to our shores as an ornamental garden plant!) is NOT YET in Angle Fly Preserve or Westchester County. And we’d like to keep it that way. It has been sighted in Putnam County, however, and in many locations in western New York. There is much more information including photographs on the NYS/DEC website.