Giant hogweed

What does it look like?

Giant hogweed is a fairly spectacular looking plant, because it is taller than an adult and can reach as much as five metres tall. It usually looks untidy, and it has white flowers which grow in large clusters reminiscent of cow parsley. It often grows 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:

  • DO NOT touch your eyes. The sap from Giant Hogweed can cause blindness.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Use disinfectant wipes immediately, and wash the area later, if you don’t have access to water.
  • Keep your skin covered and well hidden from daylight. Your skin will develop photodermatitis, which means sunlight will make the rash worse. This effect may slowly go away, or it may be a permanent change.
  • Your skin will develop blisters; if they are large or very painful, see a doctor for advice on how to avoid infection or other complications.
  • If you feel generally unwell after contact with Giant Hogweed, speak to your doctor.

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