What does it look like?
Giant hogweed is a big, untidy looking plant that can grow up to five metres tall, often along footpaths and riverbanks.
If you see a plant which looks like giant hogweed but is smaller, it may be hemlock; it will not burn you like giant hogweed, but it is highly poisonous and should also be avoided.
Why is it dangerous?
If the sap of the plant comes into contact with your skin, it can cause severe, painful burns and make your skin sensitive to strong sunlight. The burns take months to heal, and sometimes the skin remains damaged for years and will blister severely every time it is exposed to daylight. If you rub your eyes after picking a giant hogweed, you could go blind, temporarily or permanently.
How can I avoid it?
Learn to recognise the plant and avoid touching it. Never pick wild flowers or plants in the countryside; apart from the danger of picking plants you do not know well, it is actually illegal in some areas.
What to do if it burns me?
If you touch a giant hogweed:
- Wash the area with soap and water. Use disinfectant wipes immediately, and wash the area later, if you don’t have access to water.
- Your skin will develop blisters. Cover the affected area so it is not exposed to the light. The blisters heal very slowly and can develop into phytophotodermatitis, a type of skin rash which flares up in sunlight.
- If you feel unwell after contact with giant hogweed, speak to your doctor.