Invasive Weed That Causes Blindness And Third-Degree Burns Found in Virginia

Giant Hogweed.
Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Giant Hogweed, a plant whose sap can cause severe burns and blindness, has been found in eastern Virginia. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, the invasive species from Asia can grow as tall as 14 feet and is topped with an "umbrella" of white flowers. The leaves can grow up to five feet across and the hollow stem, where the sap is stored, has white hairs and purple blotches near the root.

According to Isle of Wight County officials, the sap of the Giant Hogweed is toxic and can cause phytophotodermatitis, a condition where the skin becomes so sensitive that normal sunlight causes third-degree burns. The condition can last for years.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the sap can cause blindness if it comes into contact with the eyes.

The plant has been reported in several counties across Virginia. Use of a weed-eater is not recommended, as the toxic sap could splatter. Officials say the plant should be removed by the root while wearing protective gear or poisoned with herbicides.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Giant Hogweed was introduced to the U.S. in 1917 as an ornamental plant. It has been designated a Federal Noxious Weed under the Plant Protection Act, which bars it from being imported to the U.S. or transported between states.

In 2016, a New York man clashed with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation over a Giant Hogweed plant on his property. He argued that the state had no right to destroy a plant that was already growing there, and claimed he wanted to study the plant’s chemicals for a potential cure for vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disease.

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