Friday, June 11, 2010

Annual Chopping of the Hogweed

A famous landscape designer made the decision to use Heracleum mantegazzianum liberally in the design of this beautiful Washington, D.C. public space. It's not difficult to understand why. At an imposing 8-14 feet, it commands the attention of city pedestrians. There is something for everyone to admire, whether it's the gigantic leaves, the large summer fruits, or the gorgeous white umbels that reach to the sky.

So why the chopping? Heracleum mantegazzianum has an ugly side. Let's call that side hogweed. Hogweed is considered a noxious weed. It's invasive. Destructive. Non-native. Learn about the perils of hogweed here, and other facts about hogweed here.

The planting in this particular location makes many stakeholders nervous. Across the street, this path leads to a creek that leads to the National Zoo. Because hogweed loves to grow in semi-shade, moist and rich soil, seeds that drift into the creek are very bad news. As I drove to the location, I passed a group of kids on a walking field trip. I'm sure they noticed the ridiculously large and gorgeous flowers. Must have been a wonderful walk. Oh, but did I mention that the sap of hogweed can cause reddish-black, painful, burning blisters? Yep. The sap increases the skin's sensitivity to light and can cause the blistering. Hope the kids didn't decide to bring a bouquet to the teacher!

Unfortunately, what makes controlling the situation complicated is the number of players involved. An embassy sits on the top of the hill. The hogweed is growing on embassy property, but is on State Department land. Factors that keep the control of hogweed a struggle may have to do with ownership (of the land and the problem), the best method to control the plant, who will provide the labor, and more than likely (since they impact everything else!) - money and politics. Much of it is probably taken for granted by most people not directly involved, but I can tell you this...on this sunny day in June, the Annual Chopping of the Hogweed occurred.

Two watchdogs of the hogweed: buddies Dr. Alan Tasker, the National Noxious Weed Manager for USDA/APHIS, and Sandy Farber-Bandier, Extension Agent, UDC.

Above: the aptly named "Giant Hogweed". Alan at the left calling for reinforcements

And here to answer the call - to the left, members from the National Park Service Capital Region Invasive Species Team , and to the right, a happy team of student interns from the Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) program (who claim a day of chopping hogweed is better than a day in the office!).

Coming up with a game plan...

Because the sap of these plants can lead to painful blisters and burning, it's important to wear long sleeves and gloves. Below, gathering supplies - loppers and plastic gloves.

Because the plants had not yet gone to seed, the plan for the day was to simply lop off the flower heads, and carry them off.

Kevin Archuleta from the National Park Service

Though I've made mention of my inclination to overextend myself, I did not help with this effort, but only stood taking photos. I was only given a day's notice, but when I heard of the Annual Chopping of the Hogweed, I knew I needed to make space in my day to at least visit the site and learn about this noxious weed. I had to zip off and get back to my regularly scheduled responsibilities but hopefully I didn't leave too far before the others did. I would say that with lots of help, the chore of chopping the hogweed seemed very quick work. Hopefully there will be no burns or blisters to show for it!


  1. That hogweed looks like enormous Queen Anne's Lace to me, Wendy. From the perspective of the first photo that popped up on my browser, I imagined you laying on your belly to get a Lilliputian's-eye view of the wild carrot that's rampant around here. But "8-14 feet" put me straight. ;)

    I almost can't believe they let it linger on, knowing it's so invasive and there's a helpful creek disbursement system right next door. But politics makes even simple decisions complicated, I suppose. Glad these volunteers are keeping it under control!

  2. Is this hogweed in the same family as hemlock? We get some nasty stuff in our creeks! And I am suspicious that it caused a bad reaction in my daughter when we first moved here and did not know the plants around here yet.
    I can show you a picture when it blooms. Maybe you can help with the id?

  3. Rosey, I think it is in the same family as hemlock. Both sound like they could do a number on you!

    Meredith, I was nervous that I wouldn't find the group but when I spotted those plants, I knew I found the right place! THe flower heads are about 2 1/2 feet wide.

  4. Nice big weeds! The flowers are pretty and very obvious from a distance (good shots Wendy!). But it's a pity that the volunteers can't bring any home due to the sap.

    I have not come across a weed so big and pretty here. Sometimes, I can see lantana grown in the wild. Yes, lantana! But for landscapers, they use the hybrid ones - prettier and shorter than the regular ones.

  5. Giant Cow Parsley is what it's called here. Nasty stuff but the big guns are on the loose to eradicate it. I think it's one plant we can all agree needs to go. There are many other genera that are not so clear cut. [pun intended.]

    Thank you for the heads up. Everyone should be aware. Just because a plant looks like a winner doesn't mean it is.

  6. I learn so much from you. Never heard of Hogweed and yes, it does look like giant Queen Anne's Lace. I'll have to check into it more.

  7. I have never heard of hogweed. The flowers are quite attractive. Too bad they are invasive. Hope the workers didn't get affected by the sap and everything went well.


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