Giant Hogweed Invades Smoky Mountain Region

Giant Hogweed invades the Smoky Mountain region.

Giant Hogweed invades the Smoky Mountain region and it can be a real pain! Photo credit – Daily Mirror

Giant Hogweed Invades Smoky Mountain Region. Giant Hogweed looms large on it’s march toward the Smokies. Giant Hogweed can reach up to 20-feet in height and is considered extremely dangerous. It can cause 3rd degree burns and blindness. Typically found in multiple places along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and now near the Smoky Mountains. Recently Virginia Tech researchers have identified Giant Hogweed in Clarke County Virginia and Wautauga County, North Carolina near the Tennessee line. According to Diane Watwick, Urban Watershed Forester for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Forestry, there have been no reported or confirmed sightings of the infamous plant in East Tennessee to date.

Hogweed bears a striking resemblance to Queen Anne’s lace on steroids and is sometimes mistaken for elderberry or cow parsnips-both of which look similar and grow readily in the Smoky Mountain region but rarely exceed 6-feet in height.

Hogweed, whose growth period last from mid May thru July, features huge spiky leaves, which can measure 5-feet in width, and a umbrella-shaped cluster of white flower heads that may exceed 2-5 feet in diameter. According to the USDA Forest Services, USDA and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Giant Hogweed can also be identified by unusual 2-4 inch diameter hollow stems that feature hairy bristles and maroon spots.

Contact with the plant’s clear watery sap can prove disastrous. Symptoms, which can take from 3-5 days to appear, include painful fluid-filled blisters resembling burns, and phytophotodermatitis, which can make skin sensitive to ultraviolet light for years following exposure to Hogweed’s broken stems, roots, flowers, seeds or leaves.

Native to the Caucasus Mountain range in Asia, Hogweed was introduced to other parts of the world through collections in botanical gardens where its escape into other areas proved easy.

The Great Smoky Mountain region, with its miles of wild areas and abundant varieties of vegetation, just might prove the perfect incubator for the monstrous plant which produces some 100,000 seeds annually that are then spread by the wind or running water and can remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years.

Best advice is do not come into contact with any part of this plant and if you think you have identified a Giant Hogweed contact the UT Agriculture extension office at 865-974-7114

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