Battling Queen Anne’s lace on steroids

STRAIT SCOOP: Giant hogweed has been creeping its way into the B.C. landscape

A substantial swath of the community, from conservancy groups to social organizations to individual volunteers, has taken it upon themselves to sweep away the pervasive Scotch broom that is taking over large tracts of land in and around Campbell River.

Meanwhile, though, a real nasty customer appears to be gaining a foothold not far off the beaten path.

Giant hogweed, originally an ornamental from Asia, has been creeping its way into the B.C. landscape for nearly a decade. And this is one plant you don’t want getting under your skin.

Not merely invasive and a threat to crowd out native plant species, giant hogweed is actually a risk to public health. The sap of the plant, expressed through hairs in the stem and leaves, can cause burns, blistering, discolouration and scarring when it contacts skin. Rubbed in the eye, it can cause temporary or permanent blindness.

It’s also a plant that keeps on giving. The caustic sap sensitizes the skin to UV radiation, so that it can continue to burn for years after initial contact if exposed to sunlight.

Described as “Queen’s Anne Lace on steroids”, giant hogweed also closely resembles native cow parsnip, though it can grow much larger.

B.C. authorities are well aware of the plant’s spread and its danger, and are taking steps to both control it and alert the public to its dangers and safe methods of removal.

Worksafe BC has issued a toxic plant warning and produced a video on identification, precautions and removal guidelines.

The Invasive Species Council also has a substantial databank of information. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations provided $1.7 million last month to combat hogweed and other invasives.

Much of this largesse will be shared through local invasive species organizations.

To the south, the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society and Qualicum Beach Streamkeepers play active roles in controlling infestations, which occur particularly along water courses.

Campbell River does not have such an organization, though Greenways Land Trust has taken a leading role in removing broom in the area.

And while both the province and Strathcona Regional District have plans and budgets in place to deal with hogweed and other invasives on their own lands, that does not apply to infestations on private property.

One of those infestations appears to be under way in a forested area along the Oyster River. The property is held by a private owner, but is shot through with trails accessed by residents and visitors in the area. The cool, shaded paths and river access that draw hikers are also the perfect breeding spot for giant hogweed, which appears to be starting to crowd and even overhang parts of the trail.

One might be prompted to claim the owner is responsible for removing these toxic plants. On the other hand, the owner might simply exercise the right to fence off the property and deny all public access.

In a case like this, the responsibility for our safety must fall, in large part, right back on us. No different than being aware of our surroundings and taking safety precautions on the water, in avalanche zones or hiking in remote areas, caution must be taken even on a simple streamside walk.

A basic internet search will show you how to identify giant hogweed. Arm yourself and your children with knowledge. Otherwise, you might get burned.