THUNDER BAY -- While people think they're seeing giant hogweed pop up around the region, its actually cow parsnip a local invasive species expert says.
Giant hogweed was introduced to Western Europe in the 1800s as an ornamental. Standing five metres tall in some cases, the plant known for its beautiful white flower, has slowly been making its way across North America along with its phototoxicity. Sap from the plant can burn skin when exposed to sunlight.
Lakehead University natural resources management professor William Parker said its been found around Manitoulin Island in Ontario and is creeping up the North shore but it probably won't make it to the Thunder Bay region.
"It's unlikely that it could survive in a climate as harsh as or own actually," Parker said.
But its local cousin cow parsnip, which looks like giant hogweed but smaller, has always been around. In fact native populations peeled the stems of cow parsnip and ate it in the spring. People see it and think that it's giant hogweed.
"They superficially look very similar," Parker said. "Of course this is what causes the false reports."
A good way to tell the difference is by looking at the stem. Cow parsnip has fine hairs on it while giant hogweed is smooth. The leaves on giant hogweed can reach a metre wide and has more of a sawtooth look to them.
Cow parsnip even has the same phototoxic properties as giant hogweed but to a lesser extent. Still, Parker cautions people to wash with soap and water if they come into contact with the plant before being exposed to sunlight.
"Just brushing up against (cow parsnip) will do it," he said.
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