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‘It’s a gruesome thing’: Plant that can cause blindness, burns found in Western Washington

SEATTLE -- A notorious plant known to cause third degree burns and blindness has been found in Western Washington.

Noxious weed specialists are trying to get it under control.

Giant hogweed is a Class A noxious weed. Once sap from the plant mixes with sunlight, it causes hypersensitivity on the skin and can cause ugly injuries.

Sasha Shaw, a King County noxious weed educator, was in West Seattle on Thursday helping remove tall stalks of the invasive plant. Though it may be pretty, Shaw said, it's a public health hazard and should be avoided.

"It's a gruesome thing," she said.

Shaw said the plant was first discovered in the Caucasus Mountains range of West Asia and made its way west as an ornamental plant. It grows up to 15 feet tall and produces 2-foot-wide umbrella shaped flowers from mid-May to July.

Stories of a man cutting down the plant and getting third-degree burns on his hands and face went viral earlier this summer.

The plant is not too prevalent in Western Washington, Shaw said, but is certainly spotted. The plant can easily be mistaken for other harmless plants, such as Queen Anne’s Lace and Cow Parsnip. Homeowners should keep an eye out and up.

"If you're looking up at it, it's a hogweed," Shaw said. "If you're looking down at it, it's something else."

Shaw reminded homeowners the plant is not dangerous unless touched. People are afraid of the plant, and Shaw often gets emails asking her if a plant on a property is hogweed. She's happy to identify.

"People are terrified of it," Shaw said.

Pets and livestock are not impacted by hogweed, Shaw said, and it got it's name because the plant was eaten by pigs.

If you believe you have hogweed growing on your property, please contact your county and the Noxious Weed Control Board.