Battling giant problem
The city of Coquitlam is once again waging war on an invasive plant that has been cropping up around Metro Vancouver since 2006, causing what city officials call a “serious threat to human health.”
Heracleum mantegazzianum, better known as giant hogweed, is a perennial plant native to Asia and first introduced in the province as a garden curiosity, according to the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.
But the plant’s hearty and aggressive nature quickly had its distinctive three- to six-metre-high stalks shooting up and overtaking native plants all over Metro Vancouver, southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The invasive giant hogweed is not only destructive of native plant species, crowding them out with its large leafy canopy, but it also causes severe burns and dermatitis in people, usually resulting in painful blisters and black scarring on the skin of those unfortunate enough to come into contact with the plant’s sappy stalks, giant leaves and white flowers.
It can even cause permanent blindness if its sticky sap gets in the eyes.
Coquitlam’s urban forestry department monitors city lands for giant hogweed and is asking residents to eliminate it from their own properties.
On Wednesday, The Tri-City News went out with a Coquitlam urban forestry crew to destroy a crop of giant hogweed found and reported by a local resident in a tree-covered ravine off Shaw Avenue. Wearing yellow hooded protective suits and full face masks, city workers Arne Mitchell and Ron LaPointe dug up several plants, carefully double-bagging them in industrial-weight garbage bags and loading them into the truck to be incinerated.
LaPointe, who suffered a blistering burn while removing a plant last year, said the city has already been busy this year eradicating the giant hogweed, getting a jump on its spread this season.
Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s urban forestry manager, said his department spends about one to two weeks each year removing giant hogweed from the city and encourages anyone who wants to remove it from their own property to either hire a qualified landscaper or follow the removal guidelines and video posted on WorkSafeBC’s website, worksafebc.com.