Don’t Be Fooled by the Hogweed

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Provided by Prince William County

Maybe you’ve heard of Queen Anne’s Lace, Common Elderberry or Winged Sumac. But have you heard of Giant Hogweed? While these are all plants, and they all look similar to each other, one is considered dangerous and should be avoided.

Giant Hogweed plants have shown up to the north, west and south of Prince William County. So far, though, the poisonous species hasn’t been found locally in the county, said Paige Thacker with the Prince William Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE).

Giant Hogweeds, which can top 15 feet with blooms that can spread up to two and a half feet across, has clear, watery, poisonous sap that can severely burn and blister skin, or cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes. Further, the sap is photosensitizing, which means it reacts with sunlight to become even more potent, according to Thacker. Therefore, the plant should never be touched.

The plant has been found in Alexandria, as well as Clarke, Arlington, Fauquier and Spotsylvania counties. It’s important to note that most of the plants that have been found were planted and have not propagated to new locations, Thacker said. “What we’ve seen is plants that were put there and they stayed onsite; and there aren’t any other Hogweed plants around it, as far as we’ve heard. We haven’t found it in a situation where it spread by seed.”

The Hogweed plantings that have been found so far were sold as other things that look like Hogweed, Thacker said. “The planting in Fauquier they just found, as well as the one in Alexandria, were mistaken plants. They were bought as one of the lookalikes. They thought it was something called Angelica, which is a common lookalike, but not nearly as big.”

Other Hogweed lookalikes include Cow Parsnip, Queen Anne’s Lace, Poison Hemlock, Common Elderberry, Winged Sumac and Devils Walking Stick.

Thacker said if people find what they think is Giant Hogweed they should leave it alone and call VCE at 703-792-7747. And be cautious of people “finding” and then offering to remove Hogweed from your property for a fee.

“If people find it, or think they have it, they need to call us and we will go out and check out the site,” said Thacker. “If it is Hogweed then we will get in touch with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services about eradication. Basically, they shouldn’t try do anything with it. Call us and let the experts handle it.”

The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services is contracting with trained, expert professionals who are licensed and have the equipment to protect themselves when removing the weed, Thacker said.



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