Dangerous plant that causes third-degree burns found near West Seattle home

SEATTLE — A dangerous giant hogweed plant was found and removed this week from an alley near a home in West Seattle.

The giant hogweed plant was recently in the news for giving a teenager in Virginia third-degree burns.

The plant can cause serious burns and blindness.

Sasha Shaw, a specialist with the King County Noxious Weed Program, said the plant has giant, jagged leaves, a big, umbrella-shaped flower cluster and thick stems with purple bumps and stiff white hairs.

Was anyone injured by the West Seattle giant hogweed plant?

No one was injured by the hogweed plant found this week in Seattle.

Shaw said someone called her and said their husband was burned by giant hogweed last year and the plant was now growing in an alley near their home.

When a King County Noxious Weed crew responded to the home, it found a 15-foot giant hogweed plant growing just beyond the homeowner's fence.

The tall plant was surrounded by blackberries.

"Nobody had noticed it," Shaw said. "It had a giant seed head on it. It was pretty much ready to just drop its seeds into the backyards of two properties."

What makes giant hogweed so dangerous?

The plant can cause blindness or third-degree burns if you're exposed to it.

"You can get really seriously injured," Shaw said. "It's a very high-level burn. Plus, it sensitizes your skin so you can continue to get burned every time you go out in the sun, for many years."

Shaw said when she first started dealing with giant hogweed, there was a young boy in Washington state who lifted giant hogweed up to his eye, causing blisters all over his face.

In another instance, Shaw said the noxious weed crew got a call from a woman who said her children all had burns on their feet and she didn't know why.

The crew went to her home and found baby giant hogweed plants growing throughout her yard.

The woman had mowed her lawn and her kids went playing on the grass afterward, causing the burns.

Shaw said the woman told her that a year earlier, a neighbor cut off a flower head, not knowing what the plant was, and threw the flower head into her yard, spreading its seeds all over.

What should you do if you see giant hogweed in your yard?

If you think you see giant hogweed, you’re advised not to touch it.

If you're uncertain whether the plant you're seeing is giant hogweed, you can contact King County Noxious Weed Control Program officials here.

In order to fully remove giant hogweed, you need to dig the root out, Shaw said. It's important to wear protective gear, including long sleeves, gloves and protective glasses.

"Make sure that you don't get any of the sap on your skin, because that's what causes the burns and the blisters," Shaw said.

What is giant hogweed and does it look like any other type of plant?

Giant hogweed originally came from Russia as an ornamental plant.

"People planted it. They wanted something enormous and cool-looking in their gardens," Shaw said.

The plant's clear, watery sap has toxins that cause photo-dermatitis.

Skin contact followed by exposure to light can cause painful, burning blisters that develop into purplish or blackened scars.

Giant hogweed is closely related to a native plant called cow parsnip.

Cow parsnip commonly grows wild in the mountains in King County. Shaw said the two plants look very similar, but officials can tell the difference.

Is there a certain area in King County where giant hogweed is most often found?

"When we started fighting (giant hogweed) in 1997, we found about 1,600 locations of giant hogweed in King County alone," Shaw said. "You found it up and down the Puget Sound corridor. Up to Vancouver, down to Portland, pretty much next to gardens where people planted it, but also in backyards."

Shaw said King County crews have gotten giant hogweed restricted to about 400 locations in the county now.

Should you check your yard for giant hogweed?

"It's really important that everybody look at the plants they have and see if they have it (giant hogweed)," Shaw said.

After the removal of the giant hogweed plant in West Seattle this week, another person has already called King County noxious plant officials -- realizing that she, too, had "a lot of giant hogweed in her yard."

Is there information on giant hogweed in other languages?

Information on the plant is available in other languages at the following links.

Photos below show Shaw with the giant hogweed found in West Seattle.

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