For Immediate Release
Contact: Tom Capezzuto
At UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School
UMDNJ Allergist Warns Nature Lovers, Outdoor Activists of Dangers
of Wild Hogweed
Exposure to Rare Weed Can Cause Permanent Blindness, Skin
If you hunt or fish near a river or stream, be aware that a wild
and exotic weed may be growing there that could cause permanent
blindness or severe scarring of the skin, warns an allergist with
the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).
The plant is called giant hogweed, a huge and expansive member
of the parsley or carrot family which typically grows more than
10 feet tall, is characterized by a thick, dark purple stem and
leaves that vaguely resemble rhubarb that can extend to five feet
across, according to Dr. Leonard Bielory, director of the Asthma
and Allergy Research Center at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School
in Newark. The flowering heads look like a giant Queen Anne's
face and may grow some two feet above the stalk.
The flowers emit a clear, watery sap that causes photo-sensitivity,
which can result in painful, severe irritation and blistering
burns that turn into black scars on the skin's surface, Dr. Bielory
said. Contact with eyes can lead to permanent blindness.
The plant, which is indigenous to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia
and parts of southwestern Asia, was introduced to New Jersey as
a garden ornamental. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
destroyed a giant hogweed in Mendham in Morris County, but officials
fear that the spread of seeds from the plant's flowering heads
could cause it to spread rapidly in an area.
"I would recommend that anyone who has come into contact with
this weed seek immediate medical attention, including having the
affected area of skin treated with topical steroids to prevent
potential permanent skin damage," Dr. Bielory said. "In some instances,
prescription antibiotics may be necessary."