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Getting aggressive on hogweed

Apparently as hardy as it is harmful, giant hogweed remains a problem despite Waterloo Region’s ramped up efforts to do away with the plant it added to its list of “noxious weeds” last year.

Hogweed may look like a pretty garden plant, but just a touch can create second-degree burn on the skin.
Hogweed may look like a pretty garden plant, but just a touch can create second-degree burn on the skin.

Problem areas exist across the region. One such spot, a section of Wellesley bordered by Lobsinger Line, Hessen Strasse, Herrgott Road and Moser Young Road, came under township scrutiny this week. Ward 4 Coun. Paul Hergott won support from his colleagues Monday with a motion calling on the region to take a proactive approach to eradicating the plant.

Currently, regional weed inspectors can order landowners to destroy the plant on sight. If they don’t, eradication crews can be ordered in and the bill added to property owners’ taxes.

Hergott said he thinks this will be more effective, as some farmers voiced concerns over spraying plants near waterways. Giant hogweed develops pods containing in the area of 10,000 seeds. The plant likes wet soil along waterways, where it drops pods into the water, its seeds propagating downstream.

Better to have the experts take care of the problem, Hergott argued.

Regarding the possible opposition by some property owners to being billed for the cost of the region’s proactive services, Hergott noted that a collaborative effort by the different municipalities in the region, combined with the expertise of the region’s weed handlers, might make for a more effective campaign to get rid of the nuisance.

“Being there’s so much of it to get rid of, and in all the municipalities, they (the region) might be able to work things out to make it reasonable enough for the property owners to afford it,” he suggested.

Under his proposal, the region would undertake spraying of hogweed on private properties along watercourses, charging property owners for the costs.
A copy of the motion was forwarded to neighbouring municipalities for support.

Woolwich Coun. Mark Bauman, who has been warning about the spread of hogweed since 2006, said the Wellesley recommendation goes too far.

“I wouldn’t be prepared to endorse that in Woolwich Township. I think it would be fine for the region to notify the property owner, but I think that’s getting a little big brother-like,” he said of the neighbouring municipality’s stance.

Rather, raising awareness and educating people should be enough, said Bauman, who knows firsthand how noxious the weed can be.

Thinking it was a “nice-looking garden plant,” he transplanted a specimen into his garden. Soon after, blisters developed on his hands, akin to a second-degree burn. When he learned that he had in fact planted a dangerous weed, Bauman uprooted the growth.

That method has proven fairly effective and herbicides aren’t necessarily needed, he said. By wearing protective clothing (goggles, long sleeves and gloves), and uprooting the plants near sunset (the plant’s irritating sap is photosensitive), he has been successful in removing the plant from his property.

That said, the plant spreads its seeds easily, and property owners and municipal and regional staff need to stay on top of it, he noted.

“To just right off the bat step up to the plate, eradicate it and then back-charge the owner – I have a bit of a problem with that. So, I think if the owner would refuse then you could take that route. But the owner needs to have some opportunity to do their own, because it doesn’t take a lot of effort.”

The weed, a member of the parsnip family, is a very aggressive species.

Often confused with cow parsnip, a smaller plant, giant hogweed can grow three to five metres (nine to 15 feet) in height. Its leaves can span 1.5 metres (five feet). During its blooming season in mid-summer, the plants are festooned with small white flowers. The weed prefers moist, rich soils of the kind found along stream banks and roadside ditches.

If you become exposed, cover the area and wash with soap and water as soon as possible – perspiration and sunlight appear to be triggers for the harmful reaction. The plant sap produces painful, burning blisters within 24 to 48 hours after contact. Plant juices also can produce painless red blotches that later develop into purplish or brownish scars that may persist for several years.

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