20 Jun 2022


The Giant Hogweed: A Plant That Can Cause Blindness

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Case Study

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The giant hogweed is an invasive species of plant that goes under the biological name Heracleum mantegazzianum. The giant hogweed’s structure is composed of white flowers with a conical shaped head reinforced by green stems with dotted variations of purple in the stems. The giant hogweed is a perennial plant that grows up to 15 to 20 feet tall. The giant hogweed is an invasive species plant and is able to coexist with other competitive plants in its native region ( Niinikoski, & Korpelainen, 2015) . The plant is however native in the Caucasus regions of Eurasia. It is very hard to distinguish the giant hogweed from other plants such as the cow parsnip but its stems however are a key distinguishing factor as they contain purple variations their flowers are also clustered and are in an umbrella shape. The giant hogweed plant is an extremely invasive species and was discovered thriving in the 19 th century. To this effect, within a short time of its initial introduction it was observed to occur naturally in different regions. The species of this plants is seen to thrive well in moist soils and its competitive nature describes it as a persistent weed. Its seeds are adapted very well to their method of dispersal as they are shaped like papery discs as an adaptive nature to freely float on water. 

The invasive nature of the giant hog weed plant is extremely hard to get rid of ( Baker, Bedford, & Kanitkar, 2016 ). Their seeds germinate very fast and are adapted to growing in colder climates with less soil nutrients. Their adaptive nature make them very persistent they are seen to disrupt the ecology of native plants and provide stiff survival competitions for native plants. They spread their seeds very fast and its growth become rapid while in competition with other pre-existing plants. Its seeds are dispersed by water and are seen to flow down river banks into other areas where they seemingly invade. There are few economic benefits associated with the giant hogweed. Its seeds serve as a point of economic value as they are famously used in the preparation of spices. The plant besides being poisonous in its natural form has its own ecological role. Its seed are used in preparation of the Persian spice. The spice is famously and widely used in Middle East for preparation of dishes as it contains an aromatic scent. Its seeds are crushed into a powder form and most are manufactured and taken to the market while under the label of angelica seeds. 

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Despite being of economic value it is poisonous and its nature to occur rapidly in most parts of the world makes them dangerous. Its sap is found in is stems and leaves and when in contact with human skin they cause dermatitis on exposure to sunlight. The photo sensitivity caused by its sap leads to pigmentation and blistering of the skin. A variety of factors have led to its establishment in non-native regions, one being that this species of plant is highly competitive its adapted to very harsh conditions of growth and one plant may produce a lot of seeds. The dispersal rate for this seeds is high and with a lot of seeds falling around the parent plant they grow and are a subject to overcrowding. This is evident as giant hogweeds occurring in non-native land are a subject to overcrowding and are thus, always in competition for sunlight with other plants ( Otte & Franke, 1998) .Their large leaves and umbrella shapes make natural vegetation easy to compete with. Plants growing under this conditions lack the photosynthetic nature of sunlight and they later wither away and die. With giant hogweeds rising high above the soil they make a platform for bare soil down below them and are factors of soil erosion. Soil erosion is also common since they displace vegetation from its natural occurring state whose roots hold soil together to prevent this. Soil erosion however is a key factor that works in favor of the giant hogweed. Seeds that fall down from giant hogweed plants are a victim to dispersal by erosion and as the soil erodes them they flow down river banks where their swept away by water to a different region. In this way we see the relevance of soil erosion to the giant hogweed as it facilitates dispersal to non-native regions where the plant similarly thrives as well. 

The giant hogweeds prefers to grow in moist areas and are thus seen to grow mostly around river banks this is another factor that helps it in its survival with its habitats closely linked with its method of seed dispersal (Nehrbass, & Winkler, 2007) . Their seeds are also adapted for survival and are thus viable for 15 years and with this duration they are able to survive longer and wait till the right conditions for their germination to occur. The general hypothesis that shows their invasion success is their pre-existing habitat availability, they are very persistent in their growth no matter the condition they cover large areas and their invasive nature makes them multiply rapidly. Their adaptability is the key factor for their survival and they can adapt to any environmental condition in a bid to enhance their survival. They thus develop an unusual habit to thrive well near riverbanks road sides and even ditch banks (Otte & Franke, 1998 ). As we have seen the plant has unconventional methods of spreading its seeds and their invasive success is also reliant on this. The giant hogweed seeds’ are dispersed to different regions through various seed dispersal methods they thus go on to grow and adapt to the new areas. The numerous seeds produce also show their invasive success with the seeds viability period being long they are a persistent species to completely eliminate. 

Despite their market value the giant hogweed should be controlled and control measures should be set in place to prevent their environmental spread and destruction properties. Their poisonous nature is a cause for concern in their control. Control measures set against the giant hog weed include the use of herbicides (Moenickes, & Thiele, 2012). Their persistent nature however make the use of herbicides unethical. How is the green hogweed controlled ?Herbicides use are only short term and the plant is very persistent as it soon rediscovers it’s life force and is seen to grow again. Herbicides use is also contrasted by the fact that they go on to pollute water. Spraying of this herbicides to the giant hog weed is unconventional as the plant mostly occurs near river banks and this would go on to pollute water. What management measures have been put in place in a bid to control the giant hogweed? The giant hog weed is also seen to be controlled through tillage. Tillage is the introduction of a competitive plant in a bid to kill off the giant hog weeds however their adaptive nature have seen them over run other plants in the competition for environmental resources. In conclusion, the giant hog weed has its small percentage of economic value especially as its seeds are used as a spice however its negative impacts outweigh the percentage of the positive impacts it causes soil erosion it kills off potential plants where it invades and is moreover poisonous in nature. Control is thus very necessary as management has not gone well due to its invasive nature. Management measures have not gone well however as the plant is seen to spread out of control. 


Baker, B., Bedford, J., & Kanitkar, S. (2016). Keeping pace with the media; Giant Hogweed burns — A case series and comprehensive review. Burns . http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2016.10.018 

Moenickes, S., & Thiele, J. (2012). What shapes giant hogweed invasion? Answers from a spatio-temporal model integrating multiscale monitoring data. Biological Invasions , 15 (1), 61-73. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10530-012-0268-z 

Nehrbass, N., & Winkler, E. (2007). Is the Giant Hogweed still a threat? An individual-based modelling approach for local invasion dynamics of Heracleum mantegazzianum. Ecological Modelling , 201 (3-4), 377-384. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2006.10.004 

Niinikoski, P., & Korpelainen, H. (2015). Population genetics of the invasive giant hogweed (Heracleum sp.) in a northern European region. Plant Ecology, 216(8), 1155-1162. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11258-015-0498-0 

Otte, A., & Franke, R. (1998). The ecology of the Caucasian herbaceous perennial Heracleum mantegazzianum Somm. et Lev.(Giant Hogweed) in cultural ecosystems of Central Europe.  Phytocoenologia , 205-232. 

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