The lookalike weed, cows parsnip

The lookalike weed, cows parsnip (June 19, 2013)

A dangerous plant that has the potential to cause blindness has not been found in Indiana in 3 to 4 years. That is according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. 

Other media organizations have reported the plant was found in two local counties, St. Joseph and Kosciusko. And while that is true, its been several years since the Giant Hogweed was spotted and destroyed according to Phillip Marshall, Division Director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Entomology & Plant Pathology.

Giant Hogweed is considered a noxious and potentially dangerous weed. It can grow to heights 15 feet or more. It is not deadly, but it is phototoxic. That means if you touch it and then expose your skin to sun, it can cause months of severe skin irritation and even blindness. 

Marshall says the weed was found in locations in St. Joseph County and in one location in Kosciusko County. The Indiana DNR worked with the Division of Nature Preserves to irradicate those weeds. Marshall says that was several years ago. 

Her emphasized that there have been no recent reports of Giant Hogweed found in Indiana for at least the last 3 to 4 years. 

And while you might think Giant Hogweed would be simple to recognize, because it is so tall, but it can be easily confused with other plants like Cows Parsnip. Cows Parsnip is a smaller plant that looks just like Giant Hogweed but is completely harmless. 

"Giant hogweed can be 15 to 20 feet tall and as you can see I am about 5'10'' so this is not close to that," says Tim Cordell as he stands next to the innocent Cows Parsnip plant. 

Cordell is the park naturalist at Potato Creek State Park. He is adamant that Giant Hogweed has not been reported at Potato Creek State Park.

"Cow Parsnip gets to be 4 to 8 feet tall. And you can see the leaf on the Cows Parsnip is maybe a foot wide but on the Giant Hogweed, the leaf can be up to 5 feet wide. So there is a huge difference," explains Cordell.

"Probably one of the best things to look at is on the stem, the Giant Hogweed would have dark purple spots," says Cordell, "if you are not sure, you don't want to touch it because Giant Hogweed can cause some nasty blisters."

According to the Indiana Wildlife Federation, If you come in contact with the weed, wash the area thoroughly with soap and cold water as soon as possible. Keep the exposed area away from sunlight for 48 hours. If the sap of the plant gets in your eyes, rince with water and wear sunglasses. See a doctor.

If you think you have giant hogweed in your area, call the DNR hotline at 1-866-NO EXOTIC (1-866-663-9684)