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Giant Hogweed: How Safe Is It ?- How to Handle the Plant

Updated on June 20, 2018
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Titia has a broad interest in photography, poetry, family, art, dogs, cats, insects, wildlife, history, war, camping, writing, environment.

Is Giant Hogweed Dangerous?
Is Giant Hogweed Dangerous? | Source

How Dangerous Is the Giant Hogweed?

They say that this plant is a dangerous plant. It is one of the most impressive and beautiful blooming plants I know, yet it is also one of the most abused and hated plants on earth. Why?

Well, besides being one majestic beauty, this plant has two nasty habits:

1. It's an invasive plant
2. It can and does hurt people

This giant plant has stolen my heart from the first day it decided to grow on our property. I am a romantic gal (old in years, but young at heart) and I like to think that the giant hogweed is returning the love and admiration I feel for it, because I've never been hurt by any of its species and I don't always wear my gloves when handling them and I do often kill its offspring.

However, people have to be seriously careful when they roam this giant's neighborhood and it's better that nobody and certainly not kids touch it at all. Just to be on the safe side. It's not a plant that you want in your small urban garden, but if you have enough space and the will and power to control it, you will have something special to look forward to and enjoy its blossom each and every year.

Genus Heracleum

(belongs to the carrot family Apiaceae)

60 Different Species

The Genus Heracleum contains about 60 different species and I will give some information about 4 of the most commonly known.

  1. Heracleum Persicum - Golpar
  2. Heracleum Sphondylium - Common Hogweed
  3. Heracleum Maximum - Cows Parsnip
  4. Heracleum Mantegazzianum - Giant Hogweed

1. Heracleum persicum

Golpar

Heracleum Persicum - Golpar

Like the name already suggests, the Heracleum persicum originates from Persia and is a native plant in Iran. This plant is edible and medicinal.

There isn't very much information I could find on the internet. I found one (not English speaking) video where they show you what the plant looks like and one video where someone shows how to make a fresh salad with pomegranate sprinkled with golpar.

Golpar is a medicinal plant too, but as I'm not a doctor I don't dare to say what it's good for because the online explanations go way above my head.

Anyway, if you can get your hands on the golpar herb, you're in for a delicious salad I think

A Non English Spoken but Nevertheless Interesting Video

Pomegranate and Colpar Salade

2. Heracleum sphondylium

(common hogweed)

Heracleum Sphondylium - Common Hogweed

The Heracleum sphondylium also known as common hogweed is native to Europe and Asia. It reaches a height of about 20 - 47" with a max of 6ft 7" and is widely spread all over Europe. The flowers can be either white or pink. The smell however is not something you would want to write home about, the plant spreads a pig-like smell.

The plant is edible, but you have to be careful picking it, because it can also produce some rashes and burns, but not as severe as her big sister can.

In Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania they let the stems dry in the sun. Sweet white crystals will be formed on the stems and the stems can be eaten. They taste a bit like a combination of cucumber, coconut and mandarins. The stems have to be picked before the leaves unfold. Older stems can be eaten too, but they have to be peeled.

3. Heracleum maximum

(cows parsnip)

Heracleum Maximum or Cows Parsnips
Heracleum Maximum or Cows Parsnips | Source

Heracleum Maximum (Before: Heracleum Lanatum) - Cows Parsnip

There have been some difficulties about classifying this plant. It used to be called Heracleum latanum, but today it's referred to as Heracleum maximum. It is the only member of the Genus Heracleum that is native to North America and it's especially prevalent to Alaska. The plant is also referred to as Indian celery or Indian rhubarb. It can grow as high as 7ft.

The stems of this plant contain chemicals responsible for characteristic burn-like blisters when it's in direct contact of the skin and they will only recur when exposed to ultraviolet light. Native Americans made poultices of this plant to apply on bruises and sores. Peeled young stalks and stems were used as food. They have a sweet flavor.

To me, as a layman, this plant looks very much like its giant sister and I really doubt if I could tell which one is which if I would see them side by side.

Cow Parsley and Cow Parsnip

4. Heracleum mantegazzianum

(giant hogweed)

Giant Hogweed
Giant Hogweed | Source

A Plant You Really Should Treat with Respect

The stems of the giant hogweed are about 3-8 cm 1.2"-3.1") in diameter, sometimes even 10cm (3.9"). The stem has purple pigmentation and white hairs on raised nodules. The sap of the plant is photo-toxic which means it can burn your skin when touched. The flower head is umbrella shaped, formed by tiny white flowers and it can produce up to 100.000 1cm flattened seeds per flower. Never touch this plant with your bare hands or other bare parts of your body. When you want to pick a flower, wear gloves.

I will write more extensive about the Giant Hogweed, because it is a plant which - despite its beauty - can hurt people in a severe way.


An Ode to the Heracleum Mantegazzianum

This video is made by someone in my country and shows exactly why I'm so in love with the giant hogweed, despite the fact that it has a nasty habit,. It needs no words, the images speak for themselves.

Have You Ever Seen the Giant Hogweed?

See results

Heracleum Mantegazzianum Is an Invasive Species

but what does that mean

Giant Hogweed
Giant Hogweed | Source

Definition of invasive:

Tending to spread widely in a habitat or ecosystem.

Where Does the Giant Hogweed Comes From?

The giant hogweed originates from the Caucasian mountain in Asia and can be found in the temperate northern hemisphere or high mountains. It has even been found in Ethiopia, which is rather South. This plant's height can reach from about 2,5 meters (8ft) to 5 meters (15ft) which gave it rightfully the name of giant. Maybe it's reaching the 5 meters in its native habitat, because I've never seen such high plants around here. My own plants sometimes reach a height of about 3 meters.

It's a perennial plant, which means it's not going to die after one (annual) or two (biennial) years, but it can live for a couple of years more, when left alone.

The reason why we find this hogweed all over Europe and Canada/North America, is because it was first introduced in Great Britain in the 19th century as an ornamental. I assume that if they had known then, what we know now about this hogweed's behavior, they would have left it where they found it.

The Flower

Giant Hogweed Flower
Giant Hogweed Flower | Source

The Seeds

Giant Hogweed Seeds
Giant Hogweed Seeds | Source

The Seeds Are Beautiful Too, but You Better Don't Let Them Fall on the Ground

The hogweed produces thousands of seeds per plant, so you can imagine that it would not be wise to let these seeds spread by wind or birds. The main umbel in the middle will bloom first, followed by smaller umbels around it. The seeds are oval shaped and flattened. Whenever an umbel goes into seed, I cut it down and when it's dried I burn them. Don't throw them on your compost heap or bin, because they will surely germinate, even after many years.

They are very decorative and sometimes I cut a big one with seeds to put it in a vase (without water) on the table.

Different Stages of Giant Hogweed - How It Starts and How It Ends

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hogweed stage 1Hogweed Stage 2Hogweed Stage 3Hogweed Stage 4Hogweed Stage 5
Hogweed stage 1
Hogweed stage 1 | Source
Hogweed Stage 2
Hogweed Stage 2 | Source
Hogweed Stage 3
Hogweed Stage 3 | Source
Hogweed Stage 4
Hogweed Stage 4 | Source
Hogweed Stage 5
Hogweed Stage 5 | Source
The Huge Hogweed Flower Ready to Bloom
The Huge Hogweed Flower Ready to Bloom | Source

There are 'Need to Knows' about the Hogweed

Interesting Links with Information About the Giant Hogweed - Better Be Warned Than Sit on the Blisters

I thought it would be best to provide you with direct links to websites where you can read the information you need to know about the giant hogweed. Mind you, this article is not a witch hunt for this beautiful plant, but I would truly lie to you, if I told you that you can put it in your garden safely. This plant is really impressive and eye-catching, but it has to be handled with care.

So..... Tell Me: Why Is It That I Still Love This Malicious Pulchritude?

This malicious pulchritude is just so irresistible beautiful. It's majestic, it's eye-catching and it's something you never forget again once you've seen it in full bloom. It says: "Here I am, look at me" and then my heart melts, and then I don't care that it takes time to control it, to prevent it from spreading too widely. With love I'm sending all those little seedlings to their eternal life, leaving just enough plants to amaze me when they slowly develop from a tiny little seedling to a Giant Queen. Am I a softy? I suppose I am.

I always wondered why the Giant Hogweed has never given me any burns or has hurt me in any other way and I really don't know the answer to that.

Maybe that's why I always fight for its existence on our own property, when the local Board of Public Works wants to mow it down.

Hogweed Seed on an Autumn's Misty Morn

Giant Hogweed Seed in Fall Dew
Giant Hogweed Seed in Fall Dew | Source

A Giant Hogweed Project in Latvia - an Interesting Video to Watch

Did you know that Giant Hogweed can burn your skin?

See results

Be aware of the risks

The Hairy Hogweed Stem

Hairy Hogweed Stem
Hairy Hogweed Stem | Source

The Giant Hogweed Can Cause Really Severe Burns on Your Skin

Burned by Giant Hogweed
Burned by Giant Hogweed | Source

Always Be Careful Around Giant Hogweed

Not a very nice picture to see, but as I said before, you really have to be aware of the danger this plant can cause when handled wrongly and not with the utmost care.

Are we at war?

Are We at War with the Giant Hogweed?

Official U.S. definitions regarding invasive species were provided in Executive Order 13112 signed by President William Clinton on February 3, 1999:

"Invasive species" means an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Unofficially it is referred to as a species that does not native in the area it grows in, meaning it has been brought in from elsewhere and its behavior is aggressively spreading around and ousting the local native species.

The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation calls it:

"A Federally listed noxious weed"

And that's exactly what the Giant Hogweed does in some parts of the countries it has invaded. A full grown Hogweed can produce thousands of seeds each year, which are spread by wind and birds. If you thought one big beautiful Giant Hogweed in your garden will stay one big Hogweed, you thought wrong. You will know that the next year when all those tiny seedlings stick their heads above ground in spring.

This Plant Needs to Be Controlled

Giant Hogweed on my property
Giant Hogweed on my property | Source

It Takes Time and Effort to Keep This Plant Under Control

Well, to tell you the truth, it can be done, but it's not easy and you have to be consistent. There are many methods and each country where this invasive plant is growing has set its own rules. You can find them all when clicking the links in this article or through your own search on Google. So I won't give you all the specifics here, I will only tell you how I do it.

As I wrote before, the seeds are spread through wind and birds and many of the thousands seeds one plant produces will settle itself in your soil. When they're in the grass, I just mow them along with the grass. At other places I decide whether I let it grow or not and if not I spray it with a special pesticide I use here to kill the stinging nettles. It's called Garlon, but I assume each country will have its own pesticide which you are allowed to use. A pesticide that kills stinging nettles will also kill the Giant Hogweed, but sometimes you have to spray them one time more to let it disappear completely.

When they're still tiny seedlings you can pull them out, but as there will be so many, it will take a lot of time, so I don't do that. When they're already a bit bigger, you won't be able anymore to pull them out. You might get the leaves, but you won't get the 'heart' and it will continue to grow. As they are perennial plants, the same plant will appear each year on pretty well the same spot as the year before. All plants (seeds) that are hopping over the ditch to the neighbor's land, are killed with pesticide. I must say that I find it rather good controllable on our property (which is not that big), but I can imagine that when it's growing in large nature reserve area's it can be hard.

We use sheep to limit the growth of this invasive plant

Sheep in Combat with This Invasive Hogweed

In the Netherlands herds of sheep are brought into action to limit the spreading of the Giant Hogweed in nature reserved areas. The sheep love to eat the plant. The video below is a funny one, but it shows what a herd of sheep can accomplish in only one morning.

Sheep love to eat them when they're still small. The sheep breed I'm breeding have been 'designed' to eat all weeds they come across when herding them intensively (many sheep in a small area). But then, my country (The Netherlands) is a post stamp in comparison to the USA or Canada or any other country, so I can imagine that throwing in some sheep won't have the same effect in very large areas.

In the (speeded up) video below you can see what a herd of sheep can accomplish in only one morning.

Sheep Eating Hogweed

© 2012 Titia Geertman

Love to Read Your Comments

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    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 

      15 months ago from USA

      A doctor told me that this plant is used for the production of Bentyl. That is a drug used to treat IBS. I think we had these on our farm back when I was a kid.

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 

      5 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      I had never heard of this plant before. Thanks for a very informative lens. Those burns look really bad. I hope it doesn't get you!.

      TonyB

    • profile image

      editionh 

      6 years ago

      Hi Titia, your lens is a great resource for people who want to learn about the giant Hogweed.

      As far as I understand Hogweed can burn you only when your skin is wet ?

      Is that true or will it burn my skin in any case?

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