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On the offensive against hogweed

The Region of Waterloo has launched a counterattack against the giant hogweed that has invaded the area. Three university students have been appointed assistant weed inspectors and will be searching for the noxious plant by vehicle, on foot and by canoe.The plant can grow three to five metres tall and produces large numbers of white flowers. It was designated a noxious weed by the region in 2008 because of its invasiveness and its sap, which can be a health hazard. The clear, watery sap causes photosensitivity; if it makes contact with the skin and is exposed to sunlight, it can cause severe burns, blisters and scarring.

Giant hogweed was first brought from China to England for use as a decorative plant and then introduced to North America. It first appeared in the region a number of years ago.

Wellesley Coun. Paul Hergott urged the region last year to take a proactive approach to eradicating the plant. Given giant hogweed is present in all three cities and four townships, he feels it’s best to take a region-wide approach to the problem.

The students, who are studying horticultural or biomedical sciences, are working out of the Wellesley Township office. They’ll be notifying property owners when they find the weed and advising them on the best way to eradicate it. They will also be doing followup inspections to see whether it’s been taken care of, and reporting any non-compliant property owners to Larry Martin, the region’s weed inspector.

Marty Sawdon, head of the region’s licensing and enforcement division, said Martin can issue an order for the weeds to be removed, and if that fails, the region can take care of the problem and the property owner will be billed for it. He doesn’t expect that step will be necessary; in five years on the job, Martin has issued only one order.

The students will be focusing their attention on the region’s townships, where giant hogweed flourishes in pastureland and along waterways. Each plant can produce more than 10,000 seeds, which it drops into the water, to be carried downstream. Sawdon noted that of the three cities, Waterloo has the biggest problem with giant hogweed, because the seeds follow the watercourse.

Sawdon noted that it will be tough to completely eradicate the plant, but the region is hoping to control its spread and prevent people from being injured.

To report any discoveries of giant hogweed or to get information on how to remove it, call 519-575-4016.
If you become exposed to the plant’s sap, 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 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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