Toxic plants which can cause massive blisters and ulcers have been seen in London, including the giant hogweed which can cause blindness if it comes into contact with the eyes.
Now to help people avoid the dangerous plant, an interactive map has been published by WhatShed, allowing people to report any sightings of the toxic plant.
Known as Britain’s most dangerous plant, it has been spotted across Westminster, South West London and parts of North London so far this year.
What is Giant Hogweed and is it dangerous?
Giant Hogweed, also known by its Latin name Heracleum Mantegazzianum, originated in Southern Russia and Georgia.
The plant is part of the Apiaceae family, which includes well-known vegetables and herbs like parsley, carrot, parsnip and coriander.
Giant Hogweed was introduced to Britain and Europe in the 19th century, from the Caucasus Mountains.
The earliest documented reference to the plant has been traced back to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed List of 1817, where seeds of the plant were listed.
The plant itself can reach over 10ft in height and, according to The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS): “most gardeners will want to eradicate it, as it is potentially invasive and the sap can cause severe skin burns”.
The sap contains a chemical called furocoumarin which makes the skin sensitive to the sun, which can cause bad blistering. The blistering can even recur over the span of months and even years.
What does Giant Hogweed look like?
The Woodland Trust outlines the appearance of Giant Hogweed so that you can better identify the dangerous plant.
- Stems: the stems are green with purple blotches and stiff, white hairs. The stems are hollow with ridges and a thick circle of hair at the base of each leaf stalk
- Leaves: the leaves are huge, and can measure up to 1.5m wide and 3m long, and are often divided into smaller leaflets. The Woodland Trust compares them to rhubarb leaves, with irregular and jagged edges, with the underside of the leaf being described as hairy
- Flowers: the flowers of the Giant Hogweed appear in June and July, and are small and white and appear in clusters on “umbrella-like heads” that face upwards
- Seeds: the seeds are dry, flattened and an oval shape, almost 1cm long and tan in colour with brown lines
How do I treat Giant Hogweed burns?
If you accidentally get Giant Hogweed sap on your skin, Healthline says that you should wash the area with mild soap and cool water as quickly as possible.
You should keep the skin covered when you’re outside to protect it from the sunlight.
If a rash or blister begins to form, you should seek medical attention. Your treatment will depend on how severe your reaction is.
“Skin irritation that’s caught early might be treated with a steroid cream and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain,” Healthline explains.
It adds: “Severe burns could require surgery to graft new skin over the damaged skin.”
Healthline also explains that the Giant Hogweed sap can damage more than just your skin – if the sap gets in your eyes, you can experience either temporary or permanent blindness. Similarly, breathing in sap particles can result in respiratory problems.