The plant’s sap is extremely toxic to the skin in sunlight, making it a danger to public health.
Coming into contact with any part of the invasive, non-native weed, followed by exposure to sunlight, can cause severe discomfort and blistering to the skin.
Dr Peter Fitzsimons, Technical Manager of the Property Care Association’s Invasive Weed Control, is urging people to stay away from this plant and not allow its toxic sap to come into contact with skin in the sunlight.
Dr Fitzsimons said: “Every year, especially in the summer school holidays, we hear of people who are injured by this plant, and quite often it is children who encounter it while out playing.
“The sap can also be transferred via touch, so it can possibly affect somebody else through clothing and footwear.
“Symptoms include a rash, itching and blisters where skin comes into contact with it.
“In some cases, the blistering can be so severe that urgent medical attention is required.
“The situation is made particularly serious as this can become a long-term condition, an allergic response called ‘sensitisation,’ which can recur over a period of years, with the rash and the itching coming back every time the skin is exposed to sunlight.”
“Where exposure has occurred to the skin, we recommend washing the affected area, covering it up and seeking medical advice immediately.”
Giant hogweed can grow up to three metres high with a two-centimetre diameter stem and a large, white, umbrella shaped flowering head.
It has sharply serrated or divided leaves which reach up to two metres with bristles on the underside.
The stem is usually covered in bristles and has blotchy purple markings.
Sometimes the plant can be confused with UK’s native hogweed, but this plant is much smaller in size and its leaves have a smoother outline.
Dr Fitzsimons added: “Giant hogweed can spread rapidly once established in an area.
“This year’s wet and warm conditions are making it particularly prevalent.
“As well as the public safety issue, Giant hogweed’s ability to spread far and wide can really impact on the ecology of an area, as it creates a dense canopy cutting off light at soil level and has no known natural pests or diseases.”
A free guide from the PCA’s Invasive Weed Control Group on managing Giant hogweed is available to view at https://www.property-care.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Guidance-Note-Giant-Hogweed.pdf
The PCA also provides a means of identifying specialist contractors and consultants with the expertise to control and manage invasive species such as Giant hogweed, as well as other invasive, non-native plants such as Japanese knotweed.
A full list of companies in the Invasive Weed Control group is available in the ‘Find A Specialist’ section on the PCA website and more details on invasive weeds in general are available via www.property-care.org/homeowners/invasive-weed-control.