The presence of a hazardous invasive plant that can cause burns and blindness has been confirmed for the first time in Virginia, authorities said.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed on Tuesday that giant hogweed, a toxic weed that can grow up to 15 feet tall and resembles the less dangerous cow parsnip, was identified at a private home in Clarke County. Earlier this month, Virginia Department of Transportation employees who remembered hearing about the species years earlier reported a bunch growing in Frederick County, the Washington Post reports.
Exposure to sap produced by the giant hogweed plant can, in conjunction with sunlight and moisture, cause serious skin and eye irritation, blistering, scarring and even blindness, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Scientists, however, are urging Virginia residents to stay calm. The hogweed in Clarke County, at least, seems to have been planted intentionally by a previous homeowner, according to Virginia Tech researchers, and is unlikely to spread.
“It’s a dangerous plant but I’m not overly concerned about it. This seems to be an isolated incident,” Michael Flessner, an assistant professor and extension weed science specialist at Virginia Tech, said in a statement.
While the situation in Virginia seems to be under control, hogweed, which is native to Asia and was introduced to the U.S. in 1917, can be found in quite a few East Coast states — it’s especially prevalent in New York — as well as a handful of others across the country.
Individuals who think they may have discovered giant hogweed, which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s noxious weeds list, should notify local environmental authorities, who can remove the pests using protective gear.