MISSISSAUGA – When Hamilton resident Morgan Tyler was helping a friend remove some weeds from a parking lot in Burlington, he didn’t realize he was becoming the victim of a phototoxic weed.
“The feeling that you get is intense burning. It feels like your arms are on fire,” said Tyler.
Giant Hogweed is an invasive, non-native plant, with toxic sap; Tyler had heard of it but never seen it in person.
He thought he was pulling the common weed, Queen Anne’s Lace, but “I know much better now.”
“It’s much better than it was… I’m on all kind of steroids and pain killers now,” he said, while trying to stop scratching severe burns on his arm.
Tyler’s symptoms are in line with a Giant Hogweed encounter: Almost no reaction after the first contact, just what Tyler described as “a few small white spots” on his arms and legs.
Forty-eight hours later small blisters appeared, and by the third day, his forehead was swollen and eyes were puffed up.
That’s when he visited a doctor, which led to indefinite treatment with steroids, several creams and painkillers.
The swelling has gone down and the blisters have eased, but the redness continues, he said.
“I’m very thankful that I didn’t touch my eyes because hogweed can cause blindness.”
According to staff with the Toronto region conservation authority, hogweed can cause blindness, but they are not aware of any reports of that happening in the Greater Toronto Area.
The sap of the plant—triggered by ultraviolet sunlight—is what’s dangerous, according to Toronto Region Conservation Authority environmental project manager Karen McDonald.
“So as soon as you get the sap on your skin with a little bit of sunlight, it can cause what is called photodermatitis,” she said.
Giant Hogweed was first introduced to Southern Ontario by gardeners in the 1940’s. It was imported from Asia, for its showy size and large white flowers.
Because the plant produces up to 20,000 seeds per season, and often travels in streams and rivers, McDonald says it’s unlikely the plant will be eradicated.
“It would take a lot of resources to effort that kind of control.”
Instead municipalities and conservation authorities are spending time and money to educate the public about what the toxic plant. In Ontario, residents are being asked to report sightings of the plant to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
According to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, distinguishing marks of Giant Hogweed include:
Size: Can reach a height of 4-5 metres. Stems have a diameter of 5-10 cm.
Stems: hairy and purple in colour, with purple spots.
Leaves: dark green, with three deep lobes.
Flowers: small white flowers in an umbrella-shape. They can measure up to 80 cm across.
People are advised not to make contact with the plant, and to keep pets away as well.