Something monstrous has set down roots in the Empire State. Threatening to blind, burn and blister unwitting victims from Lake Erie down to Long Island, it is creeping ever closer to New York City.
Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) has arrived in the state for the fourth summer in a row. The plant, which has been federally deemed a “noxious weed,” can to be up to twelve feet tall, with enormous leaves and umbrella-sized flowers. The plant’s corrosive sap, in combination with moisture (think: a hot summer day’s sweat) and sunlight, has the ability to burn skin with even the slightest touch, and has been noted to cause scarring, severe skin damage, and even blindness.
The weed is native to the Caucasus Mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas (near Turkey) was first introduced as to North America during the early twentieth century as an ornamental garden plant.
A recent New York State Department of Environmental Conservation map shows that major populations of the flesh-eating plant are concentrated in the North Eastern regions of the state, but that crops of the weed are moving southward and have been found as close by as Nassau County.
The DEC has posted a fairly explicit warning on their website, stating that “If you think you have giant hogweed on your property, do NOT touch it.” The Department recommends that all plant discoveries should be reported to them directly, and has set-up a (wait for it…) Giant Hogweed Hotline (1-800-554-4501 Ext. 58760).
When The Observer called the hotline during normal business hours (8:30am-4:45pm) to see what exactly a report entailed, we reached an automated voice message that suggested that they “may be experiencing a large number of calls” and were “unable to receive the call at this time.”
Perhaps the DEC was swamped with calls reporting populations of the massive toxic plant, which may or may not be coming to a backyard near you.