Plant that causes third-degree burns about to bloom in Canada

Here's how to identify it and what to do if you encounter one.

Giant hogweed is not new to Canada, but every year unsuspecting residents come into contact with the dangerous plant, leading to rashes, burns and — in extreme cases — blindness.

The plant is a perennial, which means it comes back every spring. It will start to bloom around June and reach heights of up to 5 metres in the right conditions.

Every year officials in both Canada and the U.S. warn residents not to touch the plants, which pop up in large numbers on both sides of the border, although it has not been found in the Canadian territories.

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Giant hogweed is often mistaken for wild parsnip, another plant that can cause blistering burns and native to all provinces. Its appearance is often described as a larger version of Queen Anne's lace.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada says giant hogweed is one of the country's most dangerous plants. Each year, it asks people to document sightings.

The Governement of Ontario recommends that you hire a professional exterminator to remove the plant if you find one on your property.

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Why is giant hogweed dangerous?

When combined with sunlight, sap from the plants can cause extreme skin irritation, temporary or permanent blindness, and scarring.

Burns acquired from the plant can continue to cause painful blisters when exposed to sunlight for up to a decade.

While reports in Canada have been minimal, a woman in Renfrew, Ontario was told in 2015 that she would have to avoid direct sunlight for three years after being badly burned by wild parsnip, which belongs to the same family as giant hogweed. 

Giant hogweed was introduced to Canada via Asia, and it has thrived in our various climates.

Should you come into contact with the plant, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and avoid sunlight for 48 hours.

If you think you have been burned by giant hogweed, see a physician immediately.

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Giant hogweed sightings can be reported to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Giant hogweed pre-bloom:

Image source: Wikipedia.

Giant hogweed post-bloom:

Image source: Wikipedia.

You can find more information on giant hogweed here.