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Gardening & more: Giant hogweed can cause severe burns, blindness

Giant hogweed is a dangerous plant that can cause severe burns and even blindness. Report any plants you find to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Giant hogweed might look like a super-sized Queen Anne’s lace plant, but don’t touch it!

The sap of the giant hogweed, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness.

This is a seriously dangerous plant.

The plant has been found all over Erie County. Giant hogweed grows along streams and rivers and in fields, forests, yards and roadsides. It prefers open sites with abundant light and moist soil, but it can grow in partially shaded habitats, too.

I saw giant hogweed several years ago in Niagara County. I thought it was a huge variety of Queen Anne’s lace. I was driving by and in a hurry, but if I had the chance, I’m sure I would have walked up to it and probably touched it. Boy, am I glad I didn’t do that!

This plant is a public health hazard, so if you spot it, please report it to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The plant can be between 7 and 14 feet tall, depending upon its growth stage and whether it has been mowed or cut. The white umbrella-shaped flower can be up to 2 1/2 feet across and is made up of between 50 and 150 flower rays. The huge leaves can be up to 5 feet across and are incised and deeply lobed. Stems are 2-4 inches in diameter. They are green with extensive purple splotches and prominent, coarse, white hairs.

The first step in reporting it is to make sure it really is giant hogweed. Giant hogweed is much bigger than Queen Anne’s Lace and is similar to cow parsnip, angelica, wild parsnip and poison hemlock. On the giant hogweed page of the DEC website,, you can see photos to help you tell the plants apart.

The second step is to take high-resolution photos of the entire plant, including the stem, leaves, flowers and seeds, making sure to keep a safe distance.

Third, email the information to or call the Giant Hogweed Hotline at 1-845-256-3111. Provide photos, detailed directions to the plant infestation and an estimated number of plants.

If the plant is indeed giant hogweed and it is on your property, the DEC will contact you and may visit to assess the site and discuss management options, as resources allow. You can learn more about the DEC control program and how to control giant hogweed on the DEC website.

Not only is this plant dangerous, it’s invasive and can crowd out native plants. However, there has been some progress made, in limiting its spread.

If you see giant hogweed, do your part and contact the DEC.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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