Warning as giant hogweed invades the Capital

Dr Mark Watson with an outbreak of giant hogweed at Seafield. Picture: Jon Savage

Dr Mark Watson with an outbreak of giant hogweed at Seafield. Picture: Jon Savage

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IT’S been likened to venomous triffids, causing severe burns and even blindness – and it’s spreading across the Lothians.

Giant hogweed has been spotted sprouting in thick clumps in areas including Seafield, Mayfield and Easthouses in recent weeks.

10-year-old Lauren Fuller, from Shotts, suffered third degree burns after handling the plant last week. Picture: Hemedia

10-year-old Lauren Fuller, from Shotts, suffered third degree burns after handling the plant last week. Picture: Hemedia

Experts at the Royal Botanic Garden and Lothian councils have been dealing with a growing number of reports of the dangerous plant in their midst.

Last Monday, a ten-year-old girl suffered horrific burns after picking up a giant hogweed by a riverbank at Loch Lomond.

City leaders say they are working hard to curb the spread of the invasive green weed, which breeds prolifically and is extremely difficult to kill.

However, botanists believe it is “unlikely” that it will ever be completely wiped out after an epidemic that has seen it spread from riverbanks to roadsides, pathways and parks.

Dr Mark Watson, from the Botanics, said: “It’s really distressing to see what the little girl [at Loch Lomond] went through but, on the bright side, it has raised awareness of the dangers.

“And people will be telling their children not to play in those areas and not to get the sap on their skin.”

He praised the city council for its work to virtually eradicate the plant from beauty spots such as the Water of Leith.

A council spokeswoman said: “Invasive non-native species are harmful to the local environment and are often poisonous to people and wildlife.

“We have a control programme across council-owned land and treat areas where plants such as giant hogweed have been found in the past to prevent them coming back.

“We also respond to any reports of potential sightings and contact private 
landowners to give advice about how to remove invasive species from their land.”

Max Colman, science communicator at the Botanics, said: “Here in Edinburgh, giant hogweed is not uncommon and some impressive stands of these giant plants can be seen in various places.

“Seen en masse like this you can’t help thinking this is the closest thing we have to a real-life triffid.”

Outside the Capital, giant hogweed is also subject to tough control measures by other authorities.

A spokesman for East Lothian Council said: “We have had a rigorous spraying programme to control invasive plants for a number of years on our own land.

“Giant hogweed is specifically targeted because of the horrific implications of getting its sap on exposed skin. We also alert, advise and encourage landowners to undertake similar controls when there are reports of the plant growing on private land.

“Giant hogweed is prolific in producing thousands of seeds per plant and as these seeds can be transported in watercourses it is often our rivers – for example, the River Esk in Musselburgh – where the plant can become established.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com