MUSKOKA LAKES - Hogweed is a painful reality for Mike Webb, one that still scars his memory nine years later.
Giant hogweed can cause severe burns when its sap touches the skin and the sun hits it. It can also cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes. Use extreme care to eradicate.
As spring arrives in Muskoka, invasive plant species become a concern. One that is getting a lot of attention in Muskoka Lakes is Giant Hogweed.
Webb, a Bala resident, experienced the plant’s effects first-hand when he was the grounds worker at Bala Golf Club about eight years ago.
“One afternoon I ended up harvesting piles of the stuff,” said Webb.
He had burns for months. He said it looked like poison ivy and felt like burns.
“My arms actually turned black,” he said.
He said the first three days were the worst because he didn’t know what it was. His neighbour clued him in.
Giant hogweed can cause severe burns when its sap touches the skin and the sun hits it. It can also cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.
Hogweed can grow up to five and a half metres. It has white umbrella-shaped flowers that can be up to 1.2 feet across.
The only way to get rid of it is to wear protective clothing and dig it up or spray it. If uprooting the plant, wear protective clothing and gloves and dig it up in the spring. Wash skin and protective clothing with soap and water when finished. If sap touches the skin, avoid contact with the sun and wash with soap and water immediately.
Keep the plant under plastic until it dies. Do not burn the plant.
Following the incident, Webb found and got rid of all the hogweed on his 19-acre property — about 20-30 plants. He also worked at getting rid of the weed at the golf course, which has since had a lot of construction and no longer has any of the weeds.
“There’s still a lot of pockets in town around Bala,” he said.
Muskoka Lakes and Georgian Bay are the most affected areas in Muskoka.
Brad Burgess, a Muskoka Lakes councillor, said Bala has the most reported pockets of hogweed. There are also patches in Minett and along Brackenrig Road.
Muskoka Lakes is spraying public lands where the weed is found, especially the 66-foot road allowances owned by the township and along the roads. Hogweed tends to be found along disturbed roadsides. The township is encouraging residents to eradicate any of the plants they find on their own property.
Burgess said if CP Railway doesn’t take care of the hogweed along the tracks in Bala, the neighbours are going to take action.
“We just got a bunch of the neighbours that buy this stuff (Round-Up) and try to take care of it so that it doesn’t keep growing and populating so many seeds,” he said.
Hogweed is thought to have been introduced to Canada as an ornamental plant. Each plant creates 10,000-15,000 seeds each year. The seeds can survive for 10 years before growing. This causes particular concern in areas where there is water, as the seeds can survive in water.
Giant Hogweed has been travelling north from southern Ontario.
“The goal is to make Muskoka a stopping place,” said Burgess.
For more information, go to www.muskokaheritage.org.