Giant hogweed - digging deeper into the history of a 'killer weed'.

Huge hogweed burns youngsters and Plant risk traced: these might seem like familiar headlines to anyone who has been following the week's news and photos revealing horrific-looking blisters and sores dued to dealing with hogweed. These two stories date from 45 years earlier, when, as nature author Richard Mabey put it in his book Weeds, "a real triffid got in the public's creativity".

Two children dealing with burns caused by giant hogweed (Heracleummantegazzianum) growing in London having actually "spread out from Kew gardens" were reported in the Guardian on July 10 1970; the previous month, physicians at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh had required huge hogweed to be consisted of in the official list of harmful plants after children suffered "serious blistering" from exposure to the plant.

So it appears that children have been having fun with giant hogweed (or this "killer weeds" as it's called in the Daily Star - and sometimes paying painfully for their video games - because not long after it arrived in British gardens in the early 19th century right up to its present day presence as a garden escapee and fairly aggressive invasive plant. The thick, hollow stems make fantastic pea shooters, obviously.

Giant hogweed is a phototoxic, indicating it consists of furocoumarins, especially in its sap. When skin is exposed to furocoumarins in mix with brilliant sunshine, unpleasant sores and blisters can result. As we've seen today, some people end up in healthcare facility with serious burns as an outcome of a brush with giant hogweed on a bright day. Check out more information on .

This isn't really the only plant that can be unsafe in this method: wild fennel, fig trees, parsnips, celery and the very trendy Ammimajus or bishop's weed can also have precisely the same effect. Numerous an unwary gardeners clearing an overgrown allocation plot on a hot day has actually been burned by one or other of these plants. In 1981 the Wildlife and Countryside Act made it an offence to plant huge hogweed, but this does not seem to have ceased its spread: it remains a common plant throughout the UK, especially along waterways.

'This noblest of umbellifers'.

Not everyone hates giant hogweed. Children had been playing with it in this method for over a century.

And it's not simply Monty Don. In the Guardian's Country Diary column in July 1969, E.A. Ellis calls a forest of giant hogweed in Norfolk "this noblest of umbellifers" and reports that "in the presence of such giantry I felt rather like Gulliver in Brobdingnag".


Although Ellis acknowledges that "the juice of their stems and leaves has a violently dangerous effect on human skins," he includes "I have actually handled these plants sometimes without suffering, so it appears to be a matter of allergy". Nevertheless, there followed a cautionary tale from reader WD Campbell, who reacted via the letters page that he had actually managed hogweed "with impunity" for 50 years, just to find his arms come up in blisters after cutting the leaves while his arms were bare and the "sun was scorching".