The plant which can cause severe burns and blindness

An American university says an enormous plant, which causes horrific blisters, could have the potential to blind people.

The plant, a giant hogweed, was introduced to the UK and Europe in the late nineteenth century and to the US in the early 20th century, and its potential threat to people is the subject of research by Virginia Tech’s Jennifer Gagnon.

Ms Gagnon wrote the plant, a member of the carrot family, can grow to be more than 3.6 metres tall and it “out-competes native plant species” by preventing them from accessing sunlight.

“But really, that’s not the biggest threat,” she wrote.

“The biggest threat is to our own skin.”

A giant hogweed. File pic. Source: Department of Environment and Energy

The researcher said the sap has the ability to cause “the equivalent of severe sunburn” and sweat and moisture can enhance the reaction.

“And, if the sap gets in your eyes, there is the potential for blindness,” she added.

Ms Gagnon also advised never to let the plant touch the skin and to wear boots and eye protection near them. She wrote while the US Department of Agriculture’s plants database said no species of the plant have been detected in Virginia, sources suggest otherwise.

Blisters caused by the giant hogweed. Source: US Department of Agriculture

There has been reports of giant hogweed in Australia with the plant collected in Adelaide in 2007, according to the Department of Environment and Energy.

It was also recorded living near Devonport in northern Tasmania, “but appears to have been eradicated”, according to the Tasmanian Government.