Toxic Weeds to Keep Your Eye Out For This Summer

Toxic Weeds to Keep Your Eye Out For This Summer

As kids, we are told to stay away from the hot stove, the fireplace, and the hot iron, but rarely are we warned about the plants that can do just as much harm. In many cases, toxic plants can cause severe burns, capable of blinding.

We asked experts what the most common and most dangerous weeds are to humans because even if you feel like you’re invincible, imagine being taken down by a plant. It can happen so be aware – here are 4 toxic plants that you should keep your distance from.

 1. Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed takes the top prize on this list because the side effects of touching it can be so nasty. It’s often described as Queen Anne’s lace on steroids and it can grow taller than most people.

According to an article on the website invadingspecies.com, there are a number of plants that look very similar to giant hogweed including the  Cow parsnip, Woodland Angelica, Valerian, Lovage. However, none of these plants grow as tall as the mature giant hogweed, which can reach up to 5.5 meters tall under ideal conditions.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Giant Hogweed and some of its look-a-likes, Ontario Invasive Plants has some images to help you spot the difference.

According to a fact sheet from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, the sap from the Giant Hogweed can burn you, scar you, and even blind you. It contains a photo toxin that causes human skin to become hypersensitive to sunlight. The fact sheet also says that, “symptoms occur within 48 hours and consist of painful blisters. Purplish scars may form that last for many years.”

Weed inspector for Wellington County in Ontario, John Benham, told byDevan.com, “While you can protect your skin, you must take precautions to protect your eyes.” He says avoid wiping your face, brow, or eyes after dealing with Giant Hogweed.” He goes on to add that, “An eye burn is not good news because it may cause temporary or permanent blindness.”

According to the Ontario Invasive Plant Council, Giant Hogweed is a perennial that was originally introduced from Asia as a garden ornamental about a century ago. The plant spreads quickly and tends to grow in damper places, taking advantage of local waterways, to carry its buoyant seeds. It can be found along roadsides, vacant lots or stream banks.

Benham says, if you accidently come into contact with the Giant Hogweed, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. Keep the affected area out of the sun for at least 48 hours and contact a medical professional ASAP.

2. Poison-Ivy

Poison-ivy is perhaps the most famous of the toxic weeds, on this list. Who can forget the old saying “Leaflets three – Let it be!”?

According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural affairs, the plant can grow deep in the woods or in the open, in dry sandy areas, crevices of rocks, or swamps along the borders of woods or roadsides. “You are not safe even in your own garden, and you may be surprised to find it growing in your flower beds or shrubbery.” Ouch.

It seems that no part of this pain-in-the-butt plant is safe. All of its parts, including the roots, contain a poisonous oily resin that causes an irritating inflammation of the skin, which can turn into blisters and intense itchiness.

Watch this clever video posted on YouTube by user NIOSH, explaining how the oily resin breaks down your skin cells.

The healthy Canadians website warns, “Do not burn poison ivy!” The oily resin when burned, can go into the air in the form of tiny droplets or stick to particles of ash or dust in smoke, potentially harming your breathing passages and these particles can also cause a severe reaction on exposed skin.

The website also says that even dry twigs in the winter or roots that have been dug up in the summer can cause a reaction so you need to be careful and aware. If you find yourself accidentally brushing up against a poison ivy plant, don’t hesitate get the advice of a doctor.

3. Climbing Nightshade

I remember playing with and around the climbing nightshade plant as a child. It’s a good thing I never thought to feast on it then, otherwise I may not have had a chance to write this article.

Climbing Nightshade plant is considered a toxic weed because the berries are quite attractive looking, but you don`t let their good looks fool you.

John Benham says, “If a child ingested the berries it can make them mighty sick.” The berries are red, and have a bitter and sweet flavour if ingested. “While some people can eat them without getting sick; there have been reports of children eating them and being poisoned,” shared Benham.

According to OMAFRA website, Climbing Nightshade can be found in open woods, edges of fields, fence lines, roadsides, and occasionally in hedges and gardens.

Benham offers up some easy advice, “Don’t eat the attractive berry.” So, remember, no matter how enticing these berries may look, if you have kids, it’s smarter to pull them up and avoid any trouble.

 4. Wild Parsnip

Parsnips are quite yummy, but the ones we eat for dinner are different from the wild parsnip – which can be quite nasty. Just like Giant Hogweed, you should avoid touching, rubbing, or getting the wild parsnip’s sap near your eyes. If that sap does get into your eyes, it may cause temporary or permanent blindness so this plant is no joke.

According to Ontario’s invading species awareness program, “Wild parsnip roots are edible, but the sap of the plant can cause severe burns.”The website also says that like the giant hogweed plant, its sap contains chemicals that can cause human skin to react to sunlight, resulting in intense burns, rashes or blisters.

The Mayo Clinic website says, ” When these chemicals get on your skin and then are exposed to ultraviolet light, a chemical reaction occurs that often looks like a sunburn, or it may develop as a red, itchy patch, similar to eczema.”

So, before you go running through the hiking trail, make sure you’ve got your eyes peeled for these toxic plants and stay away! If you think you’ve come into contact with one of these, please contact your doctor!

Photo credit: Nadia Matos

Have you ever experienced the rash of Poison Ivy before?

About the author:

Nadia Matos is a broadcast journalist, who has been in the TV industry for the last ten years. She currently works as a TV reporter for CTV News in Kitchener. The one word that best describes Nadia’s personality is curious. A nerd in disguise she loves the imperfections of life, She's never met a microwave or car radio she couldn’t program. Some of her loves include music, audiobooks, food, fashion, Latin dancing, photography.


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