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Giant Hogweed Plant Can Burn Skin, Cause Blindness

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A massive plant with sap that burns like acid. It’s not the latest Hollywood monster. It’s real.

It’s called the Giant Hogweed, and Alex DeMetrick reports, it’s in Maryland.

Scientists donned protective eye wear and rubber gloves exactly ten years ago. That’s when they found the first Giant Hogweed along the Little Gunpowder

An invasive plant originally from Asia, it made its way to Maryland from Pennsylvania, loaded with dangerous sap.

“The sap is phyto-toxic, meaning, if you get the sap on you and it’s exposed to the sun, it causes blisters which can be dangerous,” said Dick Bean, Md. Department of Agriculture.

“This is a very nasty plant. The idea of burns that can last for years, the increased risk of cancer after exposure and the potential for permanent blindness from this plant,” said Jonathan McKnight, Dept. of Natural Resources.

This dried stalk, well over six feet, is safe now. When alive and fresh:

“Children have been known to cut the stalk and use it like a telescope. So when they hold it up to their eye and get sap around the eye, it can cause some serious damage,” Bean said.

When in bloom, Giant Hogweed resembles Queen Anne’s Lace, only much larger, with enormous deep cut leaves.

Eradication efforts have managed to keep the Giant Hogweed in check in Maryland. Although seeds can spread and start new plants.

“They float and they go down waterways and disperse. That’s probably the problem we have up on the Little Gunpowder is it’s moving downstream with the water,” said Bean.

So far, Hogweed’s been found in 27 locations in Maryland. All but one have been eliminated.

The most recent outbreak of Giant Hogweed was found near an embassy in Washington D.C.

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