Weeds are a homeowner’s arch enemy, but you may need to think twice before handling an unfamiliar plant.
By now, people are generally familiar with the giant hogweed, a plant considered a health concern because it can cause third degree burns and even blindness. But while there’s been no confirmed case of giant hogweed in the Sun Peaks area (the closest confirmed cases have been in the Kootenays), its look-alike, the cow parsnip abounds.
Cow parsnip grows to about two metres, has umbels of white flowers, large leaves and stems that look like celery. While the plant is not nearly as dangerous as the giant hogweed, it can also inflict some damage.
Celeste McLaren learned this the unpleasant way while doing some routine yard work at her Sun Peaks home.
“I was cutting back the hedge at the back of our place because they were taking over,” explained McLaren. Growing just over a metre tall, the plant stood out, so she chopped it off first then proceeded to trim the hedge. While working, she reached over across the cut top of the cow parsnip several times with bare arms, exposing her skin to the plant’s sap.
After a few days, she started seeing red lines on her arms. “They develop over the next day or so; you don’t see them right away,” she said. Eventually, the rashes started looking like burns.
“They were about a couple inches long and a quarter to half an inch wide,” McLaren said of the marks left by the sap. “People were asking, ‘Did you burn these up baking?’”
McLaren said they weren’t painful and were mostly on the surface of the skin.
Jo-Ann Fox, coordinator of the Southern Interior Weed Management Committee, works with the Thompson Nicola Regional District in identifying invasive and noxious weeds. She said the sap from cow parsnip may cause rashes when exposed to sunlight.
“It’s typical in the carrot family; it needs the sun,” she said. However, not all individuals get a reaction from being exposed because it depends on the skin’s sensitivity. As a safety precaution, Fox suggests not touching the plant if you see it in the yard.
While it’s okay to let native plants like the cow parsnip grow in the area, giant hogweed needs to be reported. Compared to cow parsnip, the giant hogweed has some very distinct features: it grows between 1.5 to 2.5 metres high, has larger, more serrated and deeply lobed leaves compared to cow parsnip and has spots or blotching on the stems.
Contact the TNRD if you see a plant that could be giant hogweed: 250-377-8673.