Toxic plant found in Va. believed to have been planted, experts say don't panic

Corey Childs, an extension agent in the northern Shenandoah Valley housed in Warren County, visited the Clarke County site Monday to collect Giant Hogweed samples for the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech (Virginia Tech)

CLARKE Co., Va. (WSET) -- Virginia Tech researchers who said they helped identify Giant Hogweek plants in Virginia want you to stay on the lookout for the plant.

It can cause severe burns and can lead to blindness.

Researchers stressed that the weeds found in Clarke County are believed to have been planted intentionally decades ago and haven't spread in the years since.

"It’s a dangerous plant but I’m not overly concerned about it. This seems to be an isolated incident," said Virginia Tech’s Michael Flessner, an assistant professor and extension weed science specialist.

Giant Hogweed is a Tier 1 Noxious Weed in Virginia and should be reported to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Before last week, it had not been confirmed in the state.

Flessner worked with Jordan Metzgar, curator of the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, and Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Mark Sutphin to identify the plant last week, Virginia Tech wrote.

If you think you've spotted Giant Hogweed, don't panic.

Metzgar said that the plant, with its white, umbrella shaped flower clusters, look very similar to cow parsnip, a plant that is widespread and native to Virginia.

Giant Hogweed can grow to be up to 14 feet tall while cow parsnip is generally shorter.

RELATED | ID guide for Giant Hogweed compared to similar plants

Cow parsnip can also cause a mild skin rash but isn’t nearly as dangerous as Giant Hogweed.

If you suspect you have found Giant Hogweed, take photos and check online to compare them to other photos, then contact a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Remember, don't use a weed trimmer to remove either Giant Hogweed or cow parsnip without wearing proper covering and safety gear, Flessner said.

Experts also ask you to report sighting online.

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