Pernicious plant invades Western Europe

12th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Health officials are alarmed by the highly toxic plant.

Hamburg, Germany -- Authorities in Germany have issued a public health warning about a deceptively lovely flowering plant, which is highly toxic and can cause skin scarring and even blindness.

Introduced to Britain and Western Europe 100 years ago from the Caucasus because of its beauty, giant hogwood has now spread across Germany, the Low Countries, France and Britain.

Giant hogwood (Heracleum mantegazzianum)is being nicknamed the "modern-day Triffid" by concerned health authorities, in reference to an old science-fiction movie about huge plants which prey on blind people.

In Germany, the giant hogwood has been declared "Toxic Plant of the Year 2008" by authorities who have launched a concerted action to eradicate this roadside weed. Botanical authorities in the city-state of Hamburg have set up a phone hot line to give residents information on how to identify and eradicate this plant.

Giant Hogweed is a phototoxic plant, which means its sap can cause photodermatitis - severe skin inflammations when the skin is exposed to sunlight or to UV-rays.

Initially the skin goes red and starts itching. Then blisters form as in burns within 48 hours. They form black or purplish scars, which can last several years. Hospitalisation may become necessary.

Just small amounts of sap in the eyes can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness, health authorities warn.

In Germany, where this plant has become a real nuisance, there were about 16,000 victims in 2003.

Health officials say children should be kept away from giant hogweed, and protective clothing including eye protection should be worn when handling it or digging it.

If skin is exposed, the affected area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and the exposed skin protected from the sun for several days.

Due to its phototoxicity and its invasive nature, giant hogweed is actively being eradicated in Britain and in several regions in Germany, where it is illegal to plant giant hogweed or aid in its spread in the wild.

Giant hogweed is deceptively pretty. It flowers from late spring to mid summer, with numerous white flowers clustered in an umbrella- shaped head that is up to 80 cm (2.5 feet) in diameter across its flat top. Towering up to 2.5 metres (7 feet) in height, the giant hogweed is a very common sight on roadsides in Britain and Western Europe.

By forming dense stands, the giant hogweed can displace native plants and reduce wildlife interests. It has also spread in the northeastern and northwestern United States.

DPA with Expatica

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