"Now that we are approaching the end of summer, hogweed should be at the most easily recognisable stage of its life cycle, which should make it easier for people to identify it."
Invasive plant experts Japanese Knotweed Control (JKC) are warning the public to be extra vigilant against Giant Hogweed in the North West, after seeing the number of cases rise in the region by 40% in the last two years.
Giant Hogweed poses a threat to anyone who comes into contact with it. Its toxic sap causes skin to react with daylight, leading to severe burns and blisters which can persist for years. Dogs and children are particularly at risk, because they will be unaware of the danger of the plant and are likely to be spending an increased amount of time outdoors during the summer holidays.
The plant frequently grows in parks, public pathways and along river banks, and is at its most distinctive stage in mid-summer. Parents and dog owners are being encouraged to learn how to identify it to prevent an increased incidence of burns. Hogweed grows to its full height in July/August - up to 5 metres tall - and produces a large white flower head shaped in umbrella-like clusters.
David Layland, joint Managing Director of JKC, said: “The plant can be treated successfully by experts; the challenge lies in being aware of all the locations where it grows and making sure the public know not to go near it. Now that we are approaching the end of summer, hogweed should be at the most easily recognisable stage of its life cycle, which should make it easier for people to identify it.”
“We have seen a number of cases recently, both in the North West and nationwide, where an individual has suffered burns from coming into contact with hogweed. People often forget that dogs face the same threat. Hogweed grows in areas that are known to be popular dog walking routes. Owners should keep their dogs on a short lead if they suspect the plant is growing in the area.”
A series of warm, humid springs in recent years has created the optimum conditions for hogweed to thrive, and has contributed to the rising number of cases that Japanese Knotweed Control has treated in the North West.
Nicola Bates, Senior Information Scientist and Research Lead at the Vetinary Poisons Information Service, warned dog owners: “Giant Hogweed is a risk to animals - even though their hair or fur provides some protection, painful burns and blisters have been reported after skin contact with the plant. These effects may also occur if the plant is eaten.”
“Care should be taken to prevent access to Giant Hogweed when walking your dog in areas where the plant grows. Be aware that skin effects can take hours to develop so exposure may not be immediately apparent. If you suspect your pet has been exposed contact your vet for advice, and keep your pet indoors to avoid sunlight. It is the combination of sunlight and compounds in the plant which causes the skin blisters.”
If a member of the public does identify Giant Hogweed, they are advised to inform their local council so the plant can be safely and effectively removed. The area should continue to be monitored for a number of years, as hogweed seeds can germinate over time under the right climatic conditions.