Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rooting out Giant Hogweed: Our Tax Dollars at Work

Last Thursday, workers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) made a special 3-hour trip to our farm. They came equipped with hazmat suits, chemical sprayers filled with herbicide, blue dye and garbage bags.  Their mission: to eradicate Hercaleum mantagazzianum, aka Giant Hogweed, a particularly nasty invasive species known for its beautiful large flowers and propensity to cause 3rd-degree burns.  For the second year, DEC has hunted down these prehistoric-looking plants in the woodlot behind the orchard. It is one of 900 sites they work on in WNY – they definitely have their work cut out for them!

Welcome to the Jungle!
What is Hogweed?

Giant Hogweed is related to cow parsnip and looks like Queen Anne’s Lace. It was brought over from Asia to the U.S. as an ornamental plant. (Isn’t that how most invasive species start?)  With the ability to grow up to 20 feet tall and have leaves over six feet wide, it was once the pride of ornamental gardeners. One of Rich’s relatives must have planted it on the farm in the early 1900’s.  Now it is the bane of our existence. It turned out to be a very invasive species spreading across the Northeast and Canada and classified as a Federal Noxious Weed. 

What makes it evil incarnate is that the sap causes a severe, skin-darkening rash and blistering sunburn that lasts up to six months, and scaring that can last for years!  For the painful rash to occur, the skin must be moist (sweaty) when it comes into contact with sap, then exposed to sunlight.  Rich, being an adventurous 11-year-old and not knowing what they were, once attacked a whole grove of them on the farm with a machete and had scars for over two years. 

People Actually Eat It?

Interestingly, giant hogweed is originally from the Caucasus Mountains and the seeds are used in Persian cooking, where they are called golmar.  How they learned to eat the seeds without getting major rashes from the sap is beyond me!  These plants are not dangerous to animals. The deer on our farm have been doing a good job controlling it in some areas.
The DEC guys used an herbicide spray on the infested area. The spray included a blue dye so they could tell where they sprayed. They also cut off and bagged the flowering heads of some of the plants to prevent seeding. The herbicide sure isn’t organic, but the alternative is to have an entire farm of Hogweed.

These guys mean business
So, if you see this weird-looking plant anywhere – beware. But, if you can think of way we can make money with it, please let us know!

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