If you didn’t already have enough to worry about with COVID-19, the impending election in the USA, global warming, and whatever local issues might be troubling you in your corner of the world, allow me to give you something else to fret about: Giant Hogweed.
Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a member of the carrot family and it can grow to truly humongous heights – up to six meters under ideal growing conditions. Native to western Caucasus the plant was brought to the UK and North America in the Age of Strange Facial Hair (better known as the reign of Queen Victoria) as an oddity to display in ornamental gardens.
Purposely importing a foreign weed was of course a colossally stupid idea. Giant Hogweed didn’t stay in the decorative gardens. It spread across Europe, Canada, and the United States. This wouldn’t have been that big a deal if it wasn’t a noxious plant that can cause burns, scaring, and temporary blindness. It is so nasty that in the State of New York “possession with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport, introduce or propagate” is a crime. The prog rock band Genesis even sang about Giant Hogweed’s dangers back in 1971 on their album Nursery Cryme; track three The Return of the Giant Hogweed.
The spread of Giant Hogweed is appearing in the news again because of two factors. First, increased urbanization is giving it room to propagate. As people migrate towards metropolitan areas, increasing amounts of farmland are lying fallow providing a perfect breeding ground for Giant Hogweed and other invasive species. Second, COVID-19 lockdown policies have prevented volunteer organizations that try and keep the plant at bay from doing their work.
Given that a mature Giant Hogweed plant spews out some 20,000 seeds and a 2020 season of reduced eradication activities, 2021 looks to be a bumper year for this weed. So be on the lookout!