Why you should not touch the giant hogweed plant

New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation wants everyone to beware of a toxic plant danger known as giant hogweed. The plant may look pretty but do not touch it.

"Giant hogweed is a plant the carrot family that comes from the Caucasus mountains in Asia," DEC's Daniel Waldhorn said. "It grows very tall and can cause serious burns."

Waldhorn said that the plant may look pretty but you shouldn't touch it.

"Giant hogweed can cause phytophotodermatitis, which is a skin burn that is caused by a chemical in the giant hogweed sap that is absorbed in your skin cells," he said.

When UV light hits the chemical, it heats up and causes cell damage, severe burns, and painful blisters. The scars can last for several years.

"Keeping yourself covered up if you think you've been exposed to hogweed sap and seek medical attention."

While the most active sites of growth are across central and western New York, giant hogweed has been found in the Hudson Valley, Staten Island, and Long Island. In fact, 13 sites on Long Island are known that have or had the plant. The invasive species is on the federal noxious weed list and is banned from being grown in New York State.

Giant hogweed grows along streams and rivers as well as yards and roadsides. It prefers open sites with abundant light and moist soil but it can grow in partially shaded habitats, too. The plant grows between 7 and 14 feet tall and has very large umbrella-shaped flowers that can be up to 2.5 feet across, Waldhorn said.

"If you find suspected hogweed plants on your property, the best thing to do is to contact the DEC and report the plants along with photographs," Waldhorn said. "If it is indeed giant hogweed, the state offers full control free of charge to all landowners of the state."