BANGOR, Maine — If there was a Hulk version of Queen Anne’s lace, giant hogweed would be it. The invasive plant species can tower up to 14 feet tall with flower heads up to 1 foot wide, but it’s far more malevolent than its kin: The stem’s sap can cause serious burns on your skin and in some cases blindness.
“Of all the ones I’ve seen, this one scares me the most,” said Ronald Lemin Jr., a vegetation management sales consultant with CPS Timberland who has volunteered time to help eradicate hogweed from an area in Bangor.
The invasive species expert said there is a massive hogweed infestation site in Bangor on land between Ohio Street and Finson Road. The thousands of plants situated around a tributary could spread the infestation to Kenduskeag Stream and into the Penobscot River because of hogweed’s floatable seeds, which are produced by the hundreds during germination.
For this reason, Lemin said he wants to warn anyone in the area to be wary of the giant plants. The expert said the plant’s surface is harmless to touch, but its fragile, hollow stem is full of dangerous sap that can burn the skin.
“I would just stay away from it,” Lemin said.
People can identify hogweed by its unusually large size, robust red stem, wide flower head and leaves that reach up to 5 feet long. The Maine Department of Agriculture has a comparative chart of giant hogweed and its relatives on its website.
The expert said he estimates the infestation site to be from 4 to 6 acres, though he hasn’t fully surveyed the area because of limited time and he doesn’t want to wander onto land owned by people from whom he hasn’t requested permission. Because of his limited surveillance, Lemin said the site could be bigger than he estimates.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, which provides a comprehensive advisory on its website, did not have anyone available for comment Tuesday evening but its Web page’s advice echoes Lemin’s: Be cautious and use protective gear when around hogweed.
The department’s website says there are two known hogweed sites in Bangor, though the Bangor Daily News couldn’t confirm with the department whether the site Lemin found is one of those or a brand new site. In addition to Bangor, there are 18 other hogweed sites in Androscoggin, Kennebec, Sagadahoc, Hancock, Waldo, Piscataquis and Cumberland counties.
Giant hogweed is a member of the carrot or parsley family, according to a brochure produced by the Agriculture Department, and it is considered a Federal Noxious Weed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it illegal to propagate, transport or sell. The plant originated in the region between the Black and Caspian seas on the border of Europe and Asia and was introduced to North America in the early 1900s for display in arboretums because of its unusual appearance.
The brochure said the plant eventually escaped cultivation and spread into rich, moist soils near streams, ditches and wooded areas.
Lemin said he has been using glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide, to destroy many of the plants found in the area, but it’s hazardous to other vegetation and aquatic life.
As an alternative, he said he recommends either cutting off the flower head, which eventually will grow back but never germinate, or placing a black plastic bag over the top of the plant and securing it with a knot. With this method, Lemin said, the plant’s flower head will die because of suffocation and extreme heat.
The expert said he has been working at the hogweed infestation since 2010 when he first helped a nearby family handle the plant near their household. Lemin said his interest stems from the fact that he’s a forester.
“I hate invasive species,” Lemin said.