Giant Hogweed Spreading in WNY

July 28, 2014 Updated Jul 28, 2014 at 3:58 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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July 28, 2014 Updated Jul 28, 2014 at 3:58 PM EDT

Albany, NY (WKBW) The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is keeping close watch on a spreading invasive species, called giant hogweed.

The plant is native to Asia, but was brought to North America for use in gardens. Its transporters did not realize it was harmful to humans.

Hogweed spread into Western New York this summer, and with no known enemies in our ecosystem, it is taking over yards and parks quickly. It is easily carried by wind, and its seeds can travel for days in rivers or streams before laying down roots.

The DEC says it may also have been brought to Western New York by people who picked it took it home with them, not aware of what it was. DEC officials are now trying to curb the spread of hogweed, and eventually remove it from the state.

Giant hogweed can cause soil erosion and crowd out native plants, but it is also extremely harmful to humans. Contact with the plant's sap can cause an array of symptoms from mild skin irritation to severe burns and permanent scarring. It can cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.

The plant is easily spotted this time of year, because it is currently flowering and can be between 8 and 14 feet tall. It features large groups of small white flowers. Its stem is green with purple blotches and coarse, white hairs. Its leaves grow up to five feet wide.

The DEC gives these three steps if you find giant hogweed:

1. Do not touch the plant.
2. Take photos of the entire plant, including seeds.
3.Report the sighting, including number of plants, to the DEC. You can attach photos via email to ghogweed@dec.ny.gov. You can also call the Hogweed Hotline at (845) 256-3111.

The DEC Hogweed Program contacts landowners to help develop a plan to control new growths of hogweed. 28 percent of properties visited last year for hogweed have seen no growths of the plant this year.