Giant Hogweed: Big, Scary Alien on the Move

IPCBC News Release, May 14, 2010: WILLIAMS LAKE—With the approach of International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22nd, the time is right to start focusing on the early detection of invasive alien species—the second biggest threat to biodiversity worldwide. Most notably, the spreading Invasive ornamental plant, Giant hogweed, causes long-lasting skin damage. 

The initial focus for this nation-wide initiative is giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a very aggressive invasive plant with concern to human health and safety. Due to its intentional introduction in the horticulture industry, limited current distribution, potential for spread, and toxicity, members of the working group have agreed that this plant is a key national concern.

“Because of giant hogweed’s ability to grow in moist areas such as British Columbia’s many lakes, rivers, wetlands, valley bottoms, and coastal regions, and its toxicity to humans, domestics and wildlife, its spread is a major concern for the Invasive Plant Council of BC” said IPCBC chair, Kristy Palmantier. 

Native to Europe and Asia, giant hogweed was introduced to North America as an ornamental plant in the early 1900s.  It is now present in BC, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, as well as a number of US States. 

Its larger-than-life size is not the only reason to fear this plant. A single giant hogweed plant can produce 100,000 winged seeds, crowding out native plants and dominating moist areas. A rare type of invasive plant that threatens human health, giant hogweed produces a toxic sap that causes sensitivity to UV radiation, leading to skin blistering and severe burns. As a result, legal workplace regulations in BC and Ontario have unique implications for working in infested areas, and there are numerous cases of people being hospitalized due to injuries caused by this ‘exotic’ looking plant.  

Borrowing a page from the Australian “Weed Spotters” Program, the National Invasive Species Working Group believes “the more eyes we've got, the more invasive species we can spot, and potentially stop!”  BC has a growing Spotters Network, coordinated by the Invasive Plant Council of BC and supported by regional invasive plant councils and committees across the province.

“We ask that gardeners take the time to learn what garden and horticulture plants are introduced and invasive to BC and become our ‘spotters’ on the ground. Work with your neighbours to keep invasive plants out of your neighbourhoods and communities,” suggests Palmantier.

Individuals can report an invasive species in BC by calling toll free 1-888-WEEDSBC. Visit to learn how to identify giant hogweed and to get involved with an invasive plant committee near you. 

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The National Invasive Species Working Group is comprised of provincial and territorial council groups from across the country, including the Invasive Plant Council of BC, who are working together to raise awareness about invasive alien species and their impacts. Current national initiatives include the development of “spotters” networks, and horticulture outreach projects.

The IPCBC is a grassroots, non-profit society working collaboratively to build cooperation and coordination of invasive plant management in BC. Workshops, activities, and events educate the public and professionals about invasive plants and their potential risks. IPCBC is working to “spread the word, not the weed” through outreach and education; thus minimizing the establishment of invasive plants.

The IPCBC has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception in 2004. Initiated and mentored under the vision of the Fraser Basin Council, the Invasive Plant Council of BC is recognized across the country for its leadership in building collaboration to the challenging and exploding problem of invasive plants. 
For more information about giant hogweed, or any invasive species, contact the Invasive Plant Council (IPCBC):

Media Contact:
Gail Wallin, Executive Director, IPCBC
(250) 392-1400

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