You learn something new everyday! Well this past week has been a steep learning curve for me and my family as we have discovered, first hand, how detrimental some locally thriving plants are to our health and wellbeing.

Last week, out of nowhere, my three-year-old lively cockapoo - who loves to bounce through the fields near our home - developed a raw looking wound under his chin. With no obvious injury or cause that we could identify, we took him to the vet. We were informed that it was very odd indeed; a blistering/burn type wound for which we were given some antibiotics and painkillers and sent home to watch and wait. We were given a possible diagnosis of poisoning secondary to Giant Hogweed – something I had never heard of.

This got me researching only to discover that Giant Hogweed is one of the most deadliest plants in the UK which can cause serious harm to not just our pets but also to humans, yet why had I never heard of this before? Looking at the pictures, to my horror, I realised that this plant was highly abundant in our area. We had been walking amongst it these past few months and been none the wiser. My son loves to pick flowers too and after reading about its toxic effects, I felt a sense of guilt that - had I known - I would’nt have let my son and dog run through it.

Due to cuts in funding and with lockdown restrictions being placed on maintenance work, wild plants like Giant Hogweed, have been allowed to thrive. This particular plant also loves mild weather so recent tropical conditions has contributed to its overgrowth. Whilst both these factors can be understood, I do feel angry that the public haven’t been made aware of this. Surely something that can cause serious harm to us should be flagged as a public health warning by local authorities?

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I wondered if perhaps I was naïve to it so I shared this on my Instagram only to receive countless messages either thanking me for raising awareness or with anecdotal stories about hogweed poisoning to children but mainly to cats and dogs.

Known as Britain’s most dangerous plant, Giant Hogweed can typically be found near canals and rivers but it can also spread to gardens and parks. It can sometimes be confused for the more common cow parsley however unlike this plant, Giant Hogweed can grow up to heights of 12 feet whereas cow parsley tends to max at around 3-4 feet tall. Cow Parsley also has broader and more rounded leaves as well as smaller florets compared to Giant Hogweed.

Glasgow Times: DANGER: Giant Hogweed

It is the stem of Giant Hogweed that is the source of toxicity as its sap contains a poisonous chemical called furocoumarin. Brushing against it or even touching the stem releases this chemical which reacts with sunlight to cause nasty burns and blistering of the skin which can recur for several months to years. It can also leave the skin highly sensitive to the sun for a long period of time. If contact is made with the eyes, it can cause visual impairment which can be permanent so I would urge that you google it and familiarise yourself with what this plant looks like.

It is also worth knowing that it is an offence to allow this plant to spread into the wild and it is the responsibility of every landowner to be aware of this and to organise for it to be safely removed as soon as possible.

If you happen to come into contact with this plant, immediately wash the area of skin with soap and water. If you start to experience any pain, burning or blistering around the site of contact or start to feel unwell in any way after exposure, speak to your GP or 111 if after hours. Similarly, if your cat or dog has developed any sudden blistering or wounds that cannot be attributed to a known source, speak to your vet and seek help.

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Unfortunately, a week later, my little pup is still poorly. We are unsure if this has been the cause or whether it is something else altogether but nonetheless it has made me learn more about the wild life around us. We love to go on walks in the countryside with our family and we will continue to do so but with heightened awareness. We have now downloaded a plant tracker app which we will use to identify toxic plants so we can keep ourselves safe when out. I suggest you consider doing this too.