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Monday, September 3, 2007

Giant Hogweed In Potter But Not In Tioga Or Lycoming


WELLSBORO — Brush up against some giant hogweed and you’ll soon know it. The plant’s juices react with the individual’s skin and, when exposed to sunlight, an adverse reaction occurs within 24 to 48 hours.

The noxious weed can cause blistering rashes or even blindness in sensitive individuals.

Thankfully, the plant hasn’t yet been spotted in Tioga or Lycoming counties, but it does grow in Potter County.

Giant hogweed first was introduced into this country in the 1900s from Eurasia. Its imposing size and attractive flowers made it desirable for arboretums and gardens.

The plant was legal to sell and plant until 1983, according to Melissa A. Bravo, a botanist at Penn State University.

Bravo, a former resident of Tioga County, now serves as the Cooperative Extension associate and botanist-weed scientist for the state Department of Agriculture.

She is responsible for implementing and managing the Pennsylvania Noxious Weed Control Program including weed management and control relative to invasive and noxious weeds of the commonwealth.

The weed, a member of the parsnip and carrot family, often is mistaken for cow parsley or Queen Anne’s Lace, which are much smaller members of the same family, Bravo said.

Its huge size helps to distinguish it from other weeds.

“The stem of giant hogweed is twice the size of the cow parsley,” Bravo said. It also is thick and hairy with purple spots.

Giant hogweed can grow to more than 12 feet tall.

Locally, a small patch of it grows in Potter County near Germania, Bravo said, but that is the only nearby location where it has been spotted, reported and identified.

More than 500 plants were treated with herbicide along six miles of Kettle Creek and a new batch of the noxious weed recently was found in the Altoona area, Bravo added.

“There are sporadic instances across the other Northern Tier counties, Erie, Venango, Warren and McKean, but none at all in Bradford, Tioga or Lycoming counties,” she said.

Since 1995, more than 600 patches have been identified and treated in Pennsylvania, according to a report by Bravo, found online at the state Department of Agriculture Web site,

After three years of no growth, sites are released from the system, the report stated.

As of fall of last year, 426 viable sites remained in the state, including eight in Potter County.

By the end of this year, the number of sites should be down to about 292, the report said. However, it can take up to seven years of repeated herbicide applications to eradicate a growth of giant hogweed.

A news report out of Schuyler County, N.Y., in mid-August resulted in some calls from Tioga County residents who thought they might have the plant on their properties, Bravo said. However, all of the instances turned out to be cow parsnip or some other “look-alike” weed.

Even with the false alarms, Bravo said if homeowners believe they have the plant on their properties, they should contact the extension service via its Giant Hogweed Hotline at (877) 464-9333 rather than try to deal with it themselves, due to the extreme reactions caused by exposure to the weed.

More information and photos also are available online at

To read Bravo’s report in its entirety, go to

This article by Cheryl Clarke appeared in today's Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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