This toxic plant could cause blindness and burns - here's everything you need to know

by Aimee Stanton

It is the perfect time of year to embrace Mother Nature but gardeners are being urged to be on the lookout for a toxic plant that can cause severe burns and blindness.

Heracleum mantegazzianum, or Giant Hogweed, which originates from Southern Russia and Georgia, is an invasive, non-native plant which received notoriety after the plant's sap was found to cause severe burning and blistering.

There have also been cases of the plant causing blindness.

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Giant Hogweed is now in flower from now until September and gardeners and countryside walkers are being urged to keep away away from the photosensitive plant.

“Giant hogweed is a most statuesque and rather striking plant usually found in damp areas and unfortunately rather attractive to playing children and a risk to unwary workers,” warns Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society.

Burn risk

“This invasive plant comes from the Caucasus region but is now found throughout the British Isles. Any tall (2m) cow parsley type plant should be treated with grave suspicion especially if its stems are thick, bristly and have purple markings. Its sap contains a dye that gathers sunlight and re-emits it at damaging wavelengths causes painful and persistent burns.”

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the plant is so dangerous it is a criminal offence to grow it, and gardeners are being urged to take the appropriate health and safety measures when attempting to destroy the plant.

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Guy explains: “Gloves, long sleeved shirts and trousers are essential if dealing with this plant, and face protection is a wise precaution if power tools are being used. Given the risks and its invasive nature it should be removed wherever possible. Anyone unfortunate enough to receive harm should seek medical attention.”

The warning comes after The Environment Agency in Yorkshire and the North East had to spray the banks of the River Tee to prevent a newly discovered Giant Hogweed from spreading.