Canadian Hikers Beware: Giant Hogweed Looks Harmless, But Can Cause Severe Reactions

While the sizzling summer continues throughout the country, Canadians may have something else to worry about other than heat waves.

The general Canadian public, specifically Canadian hikers, is being warned about potential encounters with giant hogweeds, a toxic plant found within public fields.

Often mistaken for the similar-looking cow parsnip, a giant hogweed can prevent your skin from being properly protected against sunlight. If contacting the plant, it can also lead to a burning sensation a few minutes later, and can even lead to permanent blindness if the sap enters your eyes.

Giant hogweeds can grow in gardens, along the road and in ditches, and near the shores of rivers and streams. Findings have been recorded within Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, and has appeared to continue spreading.

"A single plant can produce thousands of seeds and it can spread quickly. The seeds are dispersed when they fall into rivers and streams, and can be dispersed short distances by the wind,” said Dan Kraus, a biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, in a statement. “Because it's a tall perennial, giant hogweed can take over large areas along rivers and streams, shade out all of our native vegetation and actually nothing can grow under it sometime.”

While Canadian citizens have begun to panic - especially after the recent news of a Virginia teen suffering from severe burns after coming in contact with the plant - Ontario Federation of Hunters and Anglers outreach liaison Kate Powell said that the escalating fear is misplaced.

“We are seeing a lot of giant hogweeds now, right across the southern extent of Ontario,” she said in an interview with National Post, “but it has been around since the mid-1990s and so it could be that folks are just becoming better at recognizing it.”

While the threat of it is not immediate, people should still take precautions as to when exploring the great Canadian outdoors.

Be aware of surroundings, and don’t take safety regulations lightly. If you do come into contact with a giant hogweed, it is recommended to remove the sap from the skin immediately with a paper towel. Clothes should also be washed, and medical advice sought.

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