Giant Hogweed Spreads Aggressively Across Canada

    Aug-10-2010

The giant hogweed (botanical name Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a lofty, attractive and imposing plant that has been thriving quietly in the back yards or living surreptitiously in the verdant and green pastures of Canada for several decades now. Its prettiness and grandeur apart, giant hogweed is known for other things not very pleasant. This plant encloses a noxious liquid that brings about burning and in rare occasions, it may also result in loss of vision. These detrimental attributes of the plant has made it a dreaded living object in Canada now.

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An association that has been striving to create awareness among the people regarding the insidious type of plants is now demanding that efforts should be made to permanently get rid of giant hogweed or Heracleum mantegazzianum from the Canadian soil. According to Gail Wallin, a member of the National Invasive Species Working Group, the aggressive growth of the giant hogweed is an instance of the fact that things may really have enduring adverse effects when people don't really comprehend the modifications that they are making to their natural habitat. She added that in the case of the giant hogweed, it has resulted in significantly major social consequences.

Wallin further said that if there is any invasive plant that all should be aware and wary about, it is the giant hogweed that has now spread across Canada and if people initiated an effort to eliminate this plant permanently from the country, they would definitely be bringing about a significant change.

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As the name suggests, giant hogweed is an enormous plant that is conspicuous simply because of its total dimension. This plant bears large leaves and white flowers resembling umbrellas. During the recent times, this plant has succeeded in grabbing the headlines in many parts of this country simply because of its negative reputation. According to experts, it is important that people are aware of what they are coping with as this plant has the aptitude to cause severe burns.

Precisely speaking, the sap of giant hogweed is particularly powerful when it is exposed to the ultra violet (UV) rays on the skin. When the noxious fluid from the plant is exposed to the skin, it develops blemishes or reddish marks in a day. Although it is rare, if the sap gets into the eye by accident, it may result in a brief or everlasting loss of vision.

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Kayla, five-year-old daughter of one Kristi Dashwood, was one of the victims of this dangerous plant. Little Kayla sustained acute burn injuries when her skin was exposed to the sap of giant hogweed sometime during the middle of July this year. In an interview from Ladysmith, B.C., Dashwood said that her daughter was picking flowers for her as usual when she came in contact with the sap of giant hogweed on her hands, arms and neck. According to Dashwood, blisters appeared on all these places within 24 hours of the girl coming in contact with the noxious fluid enclosed by the plant. In fact, Kayla had sustained third-degree burn injuries and her hands were scarred and became purple and black in no time.

Dashwood further said that even after three weeks of the incident, her daughter still bears the scars and it appears as if she was burnt by a fire. The giant hogweed she came in contact with was growing along a wooden pathway near their family residence. According to her, Mrs.Dashwood was actually shocked to discover that a harmful plant like the giant hogweed was silently growing in one corner near her home. A mother of two who is involved in creating awareness regarding such invasive species, Kristi said that steps should be taken to permanently get rid of all such plant immediately.

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According to the health authorities, people who come in contact with the plant or its toxic sap ought to escape from sunlight at the earliest and immediately wash off the area of the skin that has been affected with soap and water. In case the effects are severe, one needs to seek medical aid at the earliest.

In fact, it has been quite some time now that the giant hogweed has been naturally growing in several regions of Canada. Experts are of the view that some gardeners had brought the toxic plant to the country after it spread across Asia and different regions of Europe, especially England.

According to the National Invasive Species Working Group representative and a member of the Invasive Plant Council of B.C. Gail Wallin, a number of botanists have informed her that they actually don't have any control on this plant, which is detrimental for our health. In an interview from Williams Lake in B.C., Wallin said that the actual situation is that the giant hogweed has begun to multiply and spread so belligerently that today one plant of the species is able to produce as many as 50,000 seeds! This is an alarming situation indeed. She says that majority of the invasive species are usually fine as their growth and spread can be restricted by eliminating their seed heads. This ensures that they do not spread fast. However, this is not the case with the giant hogweed.

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Since this summer, giant hogweed has been seen growing in several places in Canada, including British Columbia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Nova Scotia and the southern parts of Quebec. These plants have been seen growing naturally and rapidly spreading in the open backyards, fields, meadows, along the embankments and roadsides. According to Wallin, it seems that so far only the Prairies have been untouched by this toxic plant.

One expert, Donald Smith said that the giant hogweed has a preference for damp soil and, hence, it can be seen growing beside ditches and also in remote locations making it difficult to get rid of the plant. A professor of plant sciences at Montreal's McGill University, Smith remarked that it may, however, be comparatively easy to eliminate the grown up plants since they are really gigantic in size that makes them prominent. At the same time, he reminded that eliminating the plant entirely from Canada would be a real uphill task.

Giant hogweed is so aggressive that it has the ability to even dislocate the indigenous plants of any region. Moreover, plant experts have asserted that the seeds of giant hogweed have the potential to germinate even after lying dormant for as many as seven years. Most importantly, people who would be engaged in eradicating this noxious plant from the country should be properly educated in handling the plants. In addition, they need to be extra cautious while removing the plant for it has the capability to cause harm to them too. Actually, WorkSafeBC, an organization working for ensuring the safety of employees, has also brought out a video on how to cope with the giant hogweed.

According to Wallin, the hue and cry raised over the alarming spread of giant hogweed is an excellent time to make the people aware about different invasive species as well as their impacts on their health and well-being. She also said that the municipalities too should seize the opportunity to contribute their bit in this effort. A number of urban localities in Canada have exceptions on the use of pesticides. Therefore, there are a number of methods to cope with the menace of giant hogweed.

Wallin informed that the method they have been trying to develop is to arrive at a broad consensus that the giant hogweed is a useless and harmful plant. Therefore, people will have to decide if they will get rid of this invasive species completely and permanently from the Canadian soil. This makes it important for the government to initiate a concerted effort to eliminate the plant.

On the other hand, Donald Smith is of the view that it is quite impossible to permanently get rid of this invasive species as it has the tenacity to once again spread across Canada from the adjoining areas. Describing the giant hogweed as an amazing and exceptional plant, he said that it is so imposing that it can grow up to a height of 20 feet. At the same time, Smith also warned that people ought to be extra cautious while dealing with this noxious plant. According to the plant expert, soon keeping away from the giant hogweed will turn into a local wisdom for the people of Canada.

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