Highway Superintendent Jack French says that the state has assigned a special unit of the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) to identify and remove hogweed. But while the DEC had not yet been called for the Lansing sightings, he and Parks Superintendent Steve Colt were confident that the plants are, in fact, Giant Hogweed.
A single stock of Giant Hogweed can grow as high as 15 feet on thick, hollow stems that grow from two to four inches in diameter. The stems have dark reddish raised spots and stiff, bristly hairs. Coarse white hairs grow at the base of the leaf stalk.
On an inspection of the three sites Wednesday French and Colt found that someone had removed the plants in the two parks. French says this is dangerous, not only because the person removing the plant could be permanently scarred, or -- in the worst cases -- killed, but also because moving the plants spreads the seeds, causing more plants to spring up. A single plant usually lasts between five and seven years.
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the DEC both warn against coming into contact with Hogweed, warning that you should immediately see your doctor if you are exposed to it.
"Do not mow, cut or weed whack the plant, as it will just send up new growth and put you at risk for being exposed to sap – the same kind of thing that would happen with poison ivy or sumac," warns the DOH. "Seek advice from professional plant control specialists about management options. If you must touch Giant Hogweed, wear disposable rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and pants. If you get sap on your clothes or body, wash it off."
Exposure causes severe skin inflammations that are sensitive to sunlight. It can cause permanent black or purplish scarring, and blindness if your eyes are exposed. Furanocoumarins in all parts of the plant are the cause of these typical, extreme reactions. The Giant Hogweed control unit has been active since 2008. It has crews that safely remove the plants, and keep data on outbreaks throughout the state.
The department of Health advises that sunscreen may help further reaction to exposed skin, and that a doctor may prescribe a steroid cream or aluminum acetate compresses.
If you spot Giant Hogweed in Lansing you should keep away from it, and keep children and pets away as well. Sightings should be reported to the Town so that town officials can alert the DEC.