Giant hogweed, a toxic plant that can cause severe skin blisters, burns and even blindness and national agency NatureScot and Care of Burns in Scotland Managed Clinical Network (COBIS) issued the joint warning as the school summer holidays get under way and when people, particularly children, are most likely to be exploring the outdoors.
Giant hogweed sap contains a toxic chemical, which sensitises the skin to sunlight and causes severe blisters, resulting in burns which can be serious and long lasting. Every year gardeners, walkers, children and animals are hurt by the plant.
Not native to Scotland, giant hogweed is widespread across central and eastern parts of the country. It is commonly found along river banks, on waste ground and beside roads and train tracks.
Dog walkers are also being warned, as the plant is harmful to animals.
Stan Whitaker, NatureScot’s invasive species policy manager, said: “It’s really important for people to be able to recognise giant hogweed so they can avoid potentially serious injury.
“Thankfully the plant is relatively easy to identify when fully grown due to its enormous size of between two and four metres tall, with large white clusters of flowers up to 80 centimetres wide.
“Its leaves are very large and sharply divided and can be over one metre across while the stems are green with purple blotches and covered with bristly hairs.”
The plant, although impressive to look at, is best avoided and reported to the local council. Anyone who comes into contact with the plant should cover the affected area to block sunlight then thoroughly wash it to remove the sap. Should redness or blistering occur, medical help should be sought.
Mr Whitaker added: “As well as being a health risk, giant hogweed is also a risk to our environment because it forms dense patches which crowd out our native plants.
“It can be very tricky to eradicate, because each plant produces over 20,000 seeds, which can live in the soil for up to five years, so land owners need to take a long-term approach to removing it every year, before it flowers.”