It looks like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. However, it’s infinitely more dangerous and should be reported. What is it? It’s called Hogweed, an invasive, dangerous weed whose appearance is in direct contrast to its name. Although it has not been found in Stafford County to date, officials are asking for citizens to avoid the huge weed that can grow up to 14 feet tall and report any sightings to the County Extension Office.
“This is a truly awful species of weed, and it poses genuine dangers to anyone who even brushes up against it,” said Stafford County Extension Agent Guy Mussey. “No instances of this plant have been reported in Stafford County to date. Regardless, people should learn to identify hogweed so they can have it destroyed safely.”
How does one recognize it? It can grow up to 14 feet tall. It’s a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family. Its hollow, ridged stems grow two to four inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple splotches. Its large compound leaves can grow up to five-feet-wide, and its white flower heads can grow to up to two-and-a-half feet in diameter. It looks very similar to Queen Anne’s Lace, a weed that is safe for humans to come in contact with in nature.
Hogweed was brought to this country in the early 1900s from Central Asia for use in ornamental gardens. Today, the plant has been reported in several states with Virginia being added to the list recently. The U.S. government classifies it as a noxious weed, and it cannot be freely bought or sold. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services classifies it as a Tier 1 Noxious Weed, which means it was previously unknown in the Commonwealth.
The sap prevents the skin of humans from protecting itself from the sunlight, which leads to a horrible sunburn. Heat and moisture can worsen the reaction causing severe blistering and inflammation. Sap in a person’s eye can cause blindness. It can also harm animals.
What should you do if you spot this awful plant on your property? First, stay away from it and keep your pets or livestock away from it. Second, take a photo of it. Third, send that photo to Guy Mussey, Stafford County Extension Agent, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Gwen Pote, Stafford County Horticulture Technician, email@example.com. They will make identification and connect you with a professional who can destroy the plant safely.