METRO VANCOUVER -- The giant hogweed doesn't have an appealing name or a pleasant appearance. It's stalks are covered with purple dots, and both stalks and leaves are coated with long, fine hairs.
But the Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS) wants residents to know it's much, much worse than it sounds.
The giant hogweed can cause serious burns or blindness to people who handle it improperly, and it's taken root in a number of Langley neighbourhoods.
Lisa Dreves of LEPS is one of the workers organizing an effort to help homeowners learn how to safely destroy the plant if they find it growing on their property.
The plant stays small for several years, growing no more than a foot or so tall. After about four years, it suddenly sends up a single massive stalk, up to five metres tall. The stalk sprouts a cluster of flowers and can send out tens of thousands of seeds in one year before the plant dies.
The danger isn't in the plant's thorns, but in its sap.
The hairs on the hogweed have sap on them, and there is a great deal more sap inside the plant.
Anyone tearing it up with their bare hands, breaking it, or even just touching it is at risk.
The sap doesn't hurt right away, Dreves said. It requires sunlight to activate on the skin it has touched.
"That skin has become incredibly sensitive to sunlight," Dreves said.
Once in the sun, sap-exposed skin can develop severe blistering.
"It can look like chemical burns," she said.
Children have been victims of giant hogweed because the long, hollow stems have been broken up and used by kids as "telescopes" or pea shooters. Children have suffered burns to their faces as a result.
The sap can also cause temporary, or even permanent blindness when it comes in contact with the eye. The most likely method of getting sap in the eye is by using a weed whacker or similar device without eye protection. Just as with sap on the skin, exposure to sunlight will cause the sap to burn and damage the eye.
Despite being dangerous to handle or remove, the giant hogweed was actually brought to Canada as an ornamental garden plant.
"It's just a really unique looking plant," Dreves said.
The giant hogweed is a serious problem in North Vancouver, and has a few footholds in Langley as well.
There is a fenced off area between Noel Booth Elementary and the nearby playing fields of the park where hogweed has taken root. LEPS is working to slowly eradicate the plant there, but it will take a lot of work, probably over several years.
Another area near 232nd Street and Fraser Highway has seen problems with the plant recently, and is the major area of concern for the LEPS workers.
The area around 232nd Street will be the target of an information campaign, with LEPS and Langley Township offering to help homeowners get rid of the pest.
If you decide to remove giant hogweed yourself, Dreves has a number of safety tips:
. Hogweed should be attacked on cloudy days or during early morning hours when the sun is not as bright
. Do not use a weed whacker or other power equipment
. Wear heavy, waterproof gloves, rain gear, and eye protection
. According to the Invasive Plant Council of Metro Vancouver, flower heads should be put into a plastic garbage bag, while no part of the hogweed should be composted; it should be sent to a landfill or incinerated
. The root should be cut three-four inches below the soil with a spade
. After removing hogweed, wash down your clothes and shower
. If exposed to hogweed sap, get out of the sun immediately and shower; exposed skin should be slathered with sunblock for the next few days.
LEPS will remove hogweed plants under a metre tall for a fee. In Langley Township can call LEPS at 604-533-6090, ext. 2550, or call Dreves at LEPS at 604-532-3517 or via ldreves@ tol.ca.
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