One writer described giant hogweed as “Godzilla poison ivy on steroids.”
The bad news is the highly noxious weed is spreading from the East Coast and coming our way.
The good news is that it hasn’t made the trip to southwest Iowa ... yet.
The plant has been found from New York to Florida and from the Atlantic Ocean as far west as Minnesota. The plant remains relatively rare, and great efforts are being made to eradicate it when it is found.
Exposure to giant hogweed can result in a rash like a sunburn within 48 hours. It makes the skin sensitive to the sun, causing burns that leave scars and long-term light sensitivity. It can cause blindness if the sap gets into the eyes and respiratory problems if plant residue is inhaled.
Aaron Saeugling, an ISU Extension field agronomist, said that while giant hogweed is getting out of control in some areas, that is not the case here.
“I don’t know of any place in Iowa with a big influx of giant hogweed,” he said.
The name derives from the physical stature of the plant, which can grow to a height of eight to 15 feet with a hollow stalk that is two to four inches in diameter.
“The leaves are really large, especially at the base,” Saeugling said. “A giant hogweed leaf would cover your desk.”
He said that wild parsnip, another invasive and noxious — but much smaller — weed is far more common in this area.
Area residents should avoid skin contact with the toxic sap of the wild parsnip plant tissue by wearing gloves, long sleeves and long pants.
The juice of wild parsnip in contact with skin in the presence of sunlight can cause a rash and blistering and discoloration of the skin.
Queen Anne’s Lace, which is widespread in the area, although far smaller than giant hogweed, is sometimes confused with the larger, more problematic plants.
Saeugling said those who come across a plant they think might be giant hogweed should avoid handling it. They should get a good, closeup photo that clearly shows the leaf of the plant and a second photo that shows the size of the plant. The photos should be sent or delivered to their local ISU Extension office.