The giant hogweed is not only back in the county, it appears to be flourishing all over the place.
The plant has been named a noxious weed by Wellington County, which means when property owners are informed about it, they have to take steps to remove it. The problem is that it is incredibly dangerous.
County weed inspector John Benham said he has not heard of anyone in this part of the province dying from the plant, but he warns it can be a danger – particularly to children.
He explained the hollow tube-like branches appear to children to be perfect blowguns, but if the child is not taken to the hospital the night of infection, they are often dead in the morning.
“The throat closes right up,” he said.
The Advertiser, which has published pictures and articles about the plant several times over the past decade, received a visit from Dianne Stewart, of Elora, who brought in pictures of a plant growing in a ditch north of Ennotville.
She reported there are others growing between Fergus and Arthur that are visible from Highway 6, and that there appears to be over two dozen of the plants growing at Rainbow Ridge campground outside of Orangeville.
Benham said on Monday he has received at least six calls about the Ennotville plant. He explained the Ministry of Transportation had taken out several plants across the road from that one, but they likely missed it at the time because it was small.
He said he has arranged for it to be removed by MTO this week.
As for the plant just south of Arthur, he said there have been plants there for a number of years, and he is working with the farmer to get them removed.
But, it is not easy, Benham said. Plus, the plants like to grow along a river, and their seeds float. That means they often wash downstream, and start new colonies of the plant, often in difficult to reach places for people who are trying to remove them.
He planned to report the Dufferin County infestation to the GRCA, and noted the GRCA has been struggling with the issue of the weed for some time.
Benham said Halton Region is infested with them, and there are few places in Wellington County and beyond that are without them. He said they can be found in Guelph, Palmerston, Harriston and Mount Forest. He said in St. Jacobs, people actually made a path to walk through them.
“It’s ongoing,” he said. “The seeds can live up to seven years. I’ve got plantations of it – that are acres.”
Private property owners are warned the weed is present, and it is their responsibility to get rid of them. Benham said the liability is “tremendous” if people are told about them and fail to act, and someone gets injured.
He said the sap of the plant is particularly dangerous. He knows of one man who tried to cut them down while wearing shorts and with rolled up sleeves, and he received tremendous burns.
In another case, a young woman cut the plant down early in the season wearing shorts, and then carried the branches under her arms. She, too, received severe burns and blisters.
“They don’t really understand the danger,” he said.
The plant has managed to spread in several ways. “Nurseries were selling Angelica that was actually giant hogweed,” Benham said. “One woman told him, ‘Now I know where I got those burns.’ Some of the stuff may have come from China.”
He said people using them should protect their skin and eyes, because the sap can cause blindness.
Those burning the plant to kill the seed should beware inhaling even the smoke. In many cases, professionals destroying the weed wear full emergency suits like those used for nuclear plants – with full body protection.
Benham warned against taking the plant out in the heat, and then wiping a sweating brow with a gloved hand.
He said despite the infestation, it is “heartening that people are now recognizing it.” He said in Guelph it actually grows alongside some sidewalks.”
The plant is impressive and can grow 10 to 12 feet high, and he has seen flowers and leaves over four feet across.
Benham said, “I think it’s been here a long time, and we’ve finally realized it.”
He said he has talked to people who live on “generation farms” and they tell him the giant hogweed “has been there as long as I remember.”
He explained the sap removed the chemicals embedded in the skin that allows people to tan, and the sun then burns the skin, often leaving ugly scars.
He said anyone trying to remove the plant should keep a pail of water and soap handy to wash the skin if there is any contact.
Anyone wanting to report a giant hogweed or to check if a plant they know of is one, can call Benham at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at 519-846-0941.