Health warning over toxic Giant Hogweed

Giant hogweed - heracleum mantegazzianum.
Giant hogweed - heracleum mantegazzianum.
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People are warned to be extra vigilant after a number of reports of the toxic giant hogweed across the UK in the last couple of weeks.

There have been sightings in the south Midlands, Greater Manchester, Scotland and Northern Ireland but an expert from the Royal Horticultural Society, Guy Barter, has warned: “Wherever you live in the UK, you can expect to encounter this plant”.

The plant grows very quickly and contains chemicals known as photo-sensitising furanocoumarins which prevent the body from protecting itself from UV light and can lead to severe burns.

A red rash develops on the skin, which grows more painful and then blisters.

Giant Hogweed: the facts

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a close relative to cow parsley.

It has thick bristly stems and can reach over 3m (10ft) in height.

The flowers are white and held in flat-topped clusters that can be as large as 60cm (2ft) across.

Giant hogweed was originally brought to Britain from Central Asia in 1893.

Now commonly grows on riverbanks and wasteland.

Wherever you live in the UK, you can expect to encounter this plant”.

Royal Horticultural Society expert

Its leaves, stems, roots, flowers and seeds contain toxic components which can be transferred by contact and make exposed skin extremely sensitive to sunlight.

NHS advice

If the sap of the giant hogweed comes into contact with your skin, it can cause severe, painful burns and make your skin sensitive to strong sunlight.

If you touch a giant hogweed, cover the affected area, and wash it with soap and water.

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.