Toxic plant not on increase around Keynsham and Saltford, says expert

Published on: 07 Aug 2015

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A plant that grows in spots around Keynsham and Saltford has been hitting the headlines lately as several youngsters in the Greater Manchester area were burned after coming into contact with it.

Just brushing against giant hogweed can cause nasty blisters on the skin and even blindness in cases where the sap comes into contact with the eyes.

But local foraging expert Chris Westgate has told Keynshamvoice that while the spate of injuries was unusual, she hadn’t seen an increase in the number of plants locally.

Knowing what to look out for when out and about and what to do if you spot any giant hogweed is important, she said.

Chris, who makes food and drink from foraged ingredients through her company Heavenly Hedgerows and gives foraging talks and tours, said: “It should always be reported to the council.

“I have only met one person who has suffered burns as a result of giant hogweed. He was walking his dog, which came into contact with the sap, and when he picked up the dog his hands were burnt and blistered.

“Giant hogweed likes to have its feet wet, so you will often find it at the edge of ponds, by rivers or damp meadows. It has a blotchy red spots on the stem and its huge leaves are sharply pointed. With up to 20,000 seeds per flower, it is best removed before it flowers.”

The invasive plant lives up to its “giant” description, growing from 5ft to 15ft, and towering over the native common hogweed, which grows from 3ft to 5ft and is a prolific roadside wild flower.

The University of Bristol’s Nature Locator team, along with the Environment Agency and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, has developed an app to track giant hogweed, along with other non-native, invasive species.

Writing in a blog on their website following the recent stories about giant hogweed, the team said: “A series of accidents involving children has resulted in some well overdue press coverage about this highly toxic plant. It is a relatively common non-native invasive species, often found growing along rivers and streams and on waste ground.”

Sightings should be reported to land owners, they said, and added: “It goes without saying that you shouldn't touch or attempt to remove any plants you think might be giant hogweed.”

The PlantTracker app is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Android Market and allows users to submit photos and locations and contains images and help to identify plants. 

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