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Giant hogweed can burn skin and take over gardens

The monster is five metres tall.

It has an umbrella-shaped flower head, one and a half metres wide. Hollow stem. Covered in coarse hairs and raised purple bumps. Leaves sharply jagged, with three leaflets – like a giant maple leaf.

If its sap is touched and exposed to sunlight, the giant hogweed will burn the skin.

The giant hogweed crowds the space of native plants and is known to significantly reduce biodiversity.

“I wanna get rid of every single giant hogweed plant on P.E.I.,” said Clay Cutting, an invasive species technician for the PEI Invasive Species Council.
Clay Cutting, invasive species technician for the PEI Invasive Species Council, wants Islanders to know giant hogweed can burn their skin.
Clay Cutting, invasive species technician for the PEI Invasive Species Council, wants Islanders to know giant hogweed can burn their skin. Photo by Ezra Santana.

The council has started a campaign to educate Islanders and spread awareness about invasive species through free pamphlets available at Victoria Park.

Besides the giant hogweed, other invasive species found on the Island include the Japanese beetle and the spongy moth.

The Japanese beetle feeds on more than 300 species of plants and can seriously damage vegetation.

The Japanese beetle was first found on P.E.I. in 2009 in a campground between Charlottetown and Cornwall, according to the PEIISC website. It is now mostly found in Charlottetown and surrounding areas.
The Japanese beetle was first found on P.E.I. in 2009 in a campground between Charlottetown and Cornwall, according to the PEIISC website. It is now mostly found in Charlottetown and surrounding areas. Photo by Ezra Santana.

The spongy moth poses a similar risk. It feeds on more than 300 species of trees and can quickly spread, endangering forests.

The PEI Invasive Species Council (PEIISC) website states that “outbreaks have been known to defoliate entire forests, decreasing tree health and increasing susceptibility to damage and disease.”

Another concerning example of an invasive plant on the Island is the Japanese knotweed, which grows in many different habitats, such as dunes, and outcompetes native plants.

The plant has even been known to damage houses by growing through concrete, according to the PEIISC website.

Invasive species make their way to Canada and P.E.I. in different ways.

“They can come here because they look pretty and somebody wants to plant them in their garden, they can come here because they make a great stew, they can come here for medicinal reasons,” said Cutting.

In fact, people might not even know they’re planting giant hogweed, as it might look like cow parsnip, seaside angelica, spotted water hemlock and purple-stemmed angelica – all native plants.

The giant hogweed also has invasive lookalikes, such as woodland angelica, wild chervil and Queen Anne’s lace.

Invasive species can also be unintentionally introduced to an environment by attaching themselves to boats and other means of transportation.

“Climate change can even be one human-mediated pathway for invasive species movement. As our climate warms, it becomes more hospitable for more species, so more invasive species can become established here.”

When encountering an invasive species, Islanders can report it using websites like EDDMapS and iNaturalist, environment mapping tools used to report and monitor local species, or by sending photos to PEIISC.

For Japanese beetles, the answer can be as simple as to step on them.

“For something like the Japanese beetle, we know it’s here. We don’t need any more proof so yeah, you can just squash that guy,” said Cutting.

Invasive species are considered one of the main causes of biodiversity loss globally, which means they take over the local environment, said forest conservation specialist Julie-Lynn Zahavich, with Forests, Fish and Wildlife P.E.I.

Some invasive insects, like the Japanese beetle, are known to damage plants by consuming most of their leaves.
Some invasive insects, like the Japanese beetle, are known to damage plants by consuming most of their leaves. Photo by Ezra Santana.

Besides the environmental implications of these species, they are also dangerous to people.

“Also concerning are the human health and wellbeing impacts of invasive species, including impacting recreational activities, introduction of new diseases, and impacts on productivity for our main industries, agriculture and fisheries,” said Zahavich.

The government on P.E.I. is working with the PEIISC to create an early detection and response plan for two insects that are not on the Island yet but have been found in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – the emerald ash borer and the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Zahavich said it’s important for Islanders to understand that they can help monitor and prevent the spread of invasive species.

“The public can assist with reporting invasive species they encounter in their communities, they can learn about how to properly manage and dispose of invasive species on their own properties, and they can take steps to ensure they are not contributing to the spread of invasive species,” she said.


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Hey, thanks for stopping by!

My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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