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Hogweed infestation breaks out

GUILFORD—The Selectboard is advising those who spend time on Green River and Hinesburg roads to be on the lookout for giant hogweed, also known as wild parsnip, poison parsnip, or hogsbane.

Heracleum mantegazzianum, native to the Caucasus region and central Asia, is a plant that appears to be a giant version of Queen Anne’s lace, about 6 feet tall or higher, with an umbrella shaped head consisting of clusters of small white flowers. It’s usually found on roadsides and in hay fields.

The plant’s sap can cause painful rashes and raised blisters when it comes in contact with skin. The reaction is usually intensified if skin exposed to the sap is exposed to sunlight for several hours.

According to Guilford Road Commissioner Dan Zumbruski, the plant’s sap “will even go through your clothes [and] you will get burned.”

Town Administrator Peder Rude said a concerned resident, whose family members were injured by exposure to the plant, called the town offices to ask town officials to put up signs warning the public to stay away from the plants.

Giant hogweed is going to seed — or moving past its flowering stage — now, Zumbruski said at the June 26 regular Selectboard meeting.

Experts say one plant can produce hundreds of seeds, and since it has no natural enemies, infestations can become widespread over time.

The Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture offer this advice for anyone who encounters giant hogweed while mowing:

• Avoid contact with the sap.

• If you are cutting brush in areas where hogweed is flourishing, wear eye protection and clothing that covers your arms and legs. Wash any clothing that comes in contact with the sap.

• If you get sap on your skin, wash thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible and protect exposed skin from sunlight for at least 48 hours.

• If you have a skin reaction, call your physician.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #416 (Wednesday, July 12, 2017). This story appeared on page 0.

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