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Toxic Plants Rapidly Growing In Canada and The U.S. Causing Third-Degree Burns

Officials in Canada and the U.S. are warning residents not to touch giant hogweed plants, which have been popping up in large numbers in both countries. When combined with sunlight, sap from the plants can cause extreme skin irritation, temporary or permanent blindness and scarring.

Lauren Fuller was on a fishing trip with her dad when she picked a piece of a Giant Hogweed plant to add to a den she was building. Within 24 hours, Lauren had bright red burns on her hands and cheeks, but when her parents took her to hospital, they were told it was just sunburn. Unsatisfied with the diagnosis, Russell and Charlotte Fuller turned to Google to research their daughter's symptoms - and quickly realised she was a victim of Giant Hogweed.

There have been several reports of children in the U.S. and the U.K. suffering from severe burns following interactions with the plant, which blooms in mid-August.

Cow Parsnip is distributed throughout most of the continental United States except the Gulf Coast and a few neighboring states. It occurs from sea level to about 9000 ft.

In regions in which both cow parsnip and the phototoxic giant hogweed (H. mantegazzianum) can be found, the occurrence of cow parsnip can cause public concern due to its generally similar appearance. However, while the cow parsnip can grow up to 2 m tall, the giant hogweed lives up to its name by typically growing 2 to 5 m tall, with huge leaves to match.

While reports in Canada have been minimal, a woman in Renfrew, Ontario was recently told she would have to avoid direct sunlight for three years after being badly burned by wild parsnip, a close relative of giant hogweed.

Wild parsnip looks similar, but is smaller and has yellow flowers.

Earlier this year, 10-year-old Laura Fuller of the U.K. sustained third-degree burns after picking up a piece of giant hogweed while fishing with her father.

Though not native to Canada, giant hogweed can be found in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and parts of Atlantic Canada.

It can grow up to 2 metres in height and looks like a gigantic version of Queen Anne's lace.

Health officials have called the invasive species a 'public health hazard'.

Should you come into contact with the plant, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and avoid sunlight for 48 hours.

If you think you have been burned by giant hogweed, see a physician immediately.

Giant hogweed sightings can be reported to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

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