New York makes progress fighting giant weed with toxic sap

June 25, 2019 06:12 PM

ALBANY - Summer is officially here and it's safe to say most people are looking forward to a little time outdoors. But before you head out, state officials are warning people about two plants found across New York which should be avoided.

Officials with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are specifically alerting people about giant hogweed and wild parsnip. They’re tall plants with sap that can cause serious burns.


DEC officials said giant hogweed isn’t as prevalent in the Capital Region. In fact, they said it's a much bigger issue out in the Southern Tier and in Western New York. However, they said a similar plant, wild parsnip, is very common in the Albany area.

If someone gets giant hogweed or wild parsnip sap on them, they develop burns. The sap contains a chemical that causes phytophotodermatitis, a condition that prevents the skin’s natural ability to reflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays. If the sap stays on skin and is exposed to sunlight, many people develop severe burns.

Justin Perry is the Director of DEC’s Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species. He said there are ways to minimize the reaction if you come in contact with the sap.

“We ask people if you do touch this plant that you both wash your skin with soap and water and try to keep that skin from being exposed to the sun for up to 48 hours,” Perry said.

DEC is looking for people to help report where giant hogweed and wild parsnip are growing. They’re asking people to take pictures of the stems, leaves and flowers to e-mail to DEC for evaluation.

The problem is giant hogweed and wild parsnip have many look-alikes. In fact, while looking for wild parsnip in Albany, a NewsChannel 13 crew found a tansy plant, which looks very similar. Officials have put out guides to help people identify and report invasive species more effectively.

Perry said giant hogweed and wild parsnip typically have tall, thick stems, long lobed leaves and small flowers.

Giant hogweed plants can grow 8 – 14 feet in height, leaves can grow to 5 feet in length and it has small white flowers in umbels, or clusters that resemble umbrella ribs, at the very top of the plant.

Wild parsnip plants typically grow 4 - 5 feet tall. Their leaves are also lobed and they have small yellow flowers in umbels on top of the plant as well.

Even if you’re able to spot the invasive plants properly, Perry said it may be difficult to detect the sap on your skin until it’s exposed to sunlight.

“That's why we recommend being aware of are you are walking through,” Perry said. “If you see an unusually large plant and rub up against it precautions are just to wash up and refrain from exposing your skin to the sun for at least a day or two.”

If you need to report giant hogweed or wild parsnip to DEC officials, you can either call the hogweed hotline at 1-845-256-3111, or you can e-mail pictures and information about where they were taken to

Giant hogweed was brought to the United States in the early 20th century as an ornamental garden plant. DEC officials said there are anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 seeds in each plant.

Giant hogweed is native to the Caucasus Mountain region between the Black and Caspian seas. It has become established in New England, the Mid-Atlantic Region and the Northwest.


Emily Burkhard

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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