Plant­watch

Gi­ant hog­weed

The Guardian - - WEATHER - Paul Si­mons

It’s a mon­ster tow­er­ing up to 20ft tall, leaves spread­ing out like gi­ant hands and flow­ers ar­ranged in clus­ters the size of din­ner plates. This is the gi­ant hog­weed, and the tabloids have been run­ning alarm­ing head­lines re­cently, claim­ing an ex­plo­sion in num­bers of “Bri­tain’s most dan­ger­ous plant” is cre­at­ing havoc as it spreads in the hot weather this sum­mer.

In re­al­ity, the plant only spreads by seed, each plant pro­duc­ing up to 50,000 seeds re­leased from late Au­gust on­wards and cast into the wind or wa­ter. But the gi­ant hog­weed is un­doubt­edly a dan­ger­ous plant, armed with highly toxic sap and just brush­ing past it with bare skin is enough to cause painful skin burns, which blis­ter when ex­posed to ul­tra­vi­o­let rays in day­light, and can take months to heal. Even years af­ter­wards the skin re­mains sen­si­tive to sun­light.

When the plant was brought here from the Cau­ca­sus 200 years ago it be­came a gar­den­ing sen­sa­tion for its colos­sal size. But the gi­ant hog­weed es­caped into the wild and spread across the coun­try, thriv­ing in wet, fer­tile soil in par­tial shade. Its swamps smaller plants and of­ten grows in great clumps along wa­ter­courses, road­sides, hedgerows, waste places and rough grass­land.

It is il­le­gal to plant gi­ant hog­weed in the wild or trans­port its seeds and it’s also dif­fi­cult to erad­i­cate and must only be dug out with great care, or sprayed with her­bi­cides; the dead ma­te­rial and the soil around the plant must be com­posted, burnt or dis­posed of in a li­censed land­fill site, and, be­cause it’s an alien, the plant has no nat­u­ral en­e­mies here.

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