Growing concerns

Kerri Breen
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City denies request to remove poisonous giant hogweed

The City of St. John's has refused a request to remove a highly poisonous plant from a secluded area, which residents say is popular with children.

Contact with giant hogweed sap causes blisters that turn into permanent scars, and sap contact near the eyes can lead to blindness.

St. John's resident Wanda Lewis is shown by a giant hogweed plant near her home in the Mundy Pond area of St. John's Wednesday afternoon. She and her husband, Shawn Lewis, have raised their concerns with the City of St. John's but so far have had no posit

The City of St. John's has refused a request to remove a highly poisonous plant from a secluded area, which residents say is popular with children.

Contact with giant hogweed sap causes blisters that turn into permanent scars, and sap contact near the eyes can lead to blindness.

The noxious sap, which is found all over the plant, is activated by sunlight.

Wanda Lewis of the Mundy Pond area of St. John's discovered the plant in a wooded area just behind her house last Saturday.

Her friend, horticultural technician Mark Bowering, mentioned the invasive species in conversation, and she showed him what was growing just outside her yard, which he confirmed to be giant hogweed.

Wanda and her husband, Shawn Lewis, contacted the City of St. John's, which owns the property, and an assessment was completed. City officials told her they wouldn't remove the plant.

"I did notify them that there are children that play out in that area, but they still said they weren't taking any action," Wanda Lewis said.

"I'm just worried about the children that are out there because I know when I was a child I would explore plants, especially if they looked different," she said.

Brian Head, operations manager for the City of St. John's public works department, said the city will only remove the plant if it's found in an area where it is going to affect the public, such as public walkway or playground.

"If it's found in an innocuous spot, say out in the woods or nowhere near a trail or something like that, then it will probably be left alone," he said.

He noted that access to the plant near the Lewises' home is limited.

Bowering, who works for Bowering Ponds and Gardens, said the plant will spread to other areas the way other invasive species have if the issue isn't addressed.

"They're going to be everywhere and it's going to be a lot easier to get rid of them now," he said.

Nearby, on the side of the road on Empire Avenue near Blackmarsh Road, there's another - a sturdy, leafy plant about five feet tall.

It's heavy with buds that resemble Spanish onions, except they're the size of large grapefruits.

If left alone, the buds will burst, releasing flowers that will leave behind about 10,000 seeds. But this plant, as well as another in Airport Heights, is on the city's chopping block tomorrow morning.

Head said the plants will be dug up with a backhoe. The holes will be covered and the remains will be brought Robin Hood Bay via dump truck. It should take about two hours and cost less than $500.

Memorial University Botanical Garden research horticulturalist Todd Boland said the plant's flat seeds can travel by water or wind, which makes the city vulnerable.

"Around here, we got winds like nobody's business," he said.

Boland has seen them all over - Airport Heights, the Virginia River, Topsail Road near Shaw Street, Windsor Heights - and there's thousands of plants in the Georgetown-Brigus area.

"It's far more widespread than we thought it was," he said.

Boland is also the Newfoundland and Labrador representative on a national working group dealing with invasive species such as the hogweed.

Many cities in Canada are tackling with the problem. The Halifax Regional Municipality is starting a public education effort, as is the Nova Scotia provincial government.

The City of St. John's doesn't have anything in the works, but is monitoring the situation and removing plants on a case-by-case basis.

"If it starts to become a real problem then we'll certainly take appropriate measures to make sure the public is not harmed," Head said.

Boland is afraid the problem won't be addressed until someone gets hurt.

"Until some youngster goes in there and gets themselves disfigured for life, then they might do something about it," Boland said.

Organizations: Botanical Garden, Halifax Regional Municipality

Geographic location: St. John's, Blackmarsh Road, Robin Hood Bay Virginia River Topsail Road Shaw Street Windsor Heights Georgetown-Brigus Newfoundland and Labrador Canada Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Keely Thomas-Moore
    December 20, 2011 - 11:00

    For something to be dangerous to the public doesn't mean it has to be on public land. Obviously it's a danger to all those children. At the same time, I don't see why the lady can't remove it herself. Is it particularly tricky to remove? Is the sap also harmful to animals? If it is, I hope that homeowners are keeping their pets in with either a traditional fence or a DIY electric fence.

  • Andrea
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    If this were next to my house I think I'd invest in a bottle of weedkiller.

  • Graham
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    Since when did we leave it up to the government to protect our kids? Really Mark? Really? YOU put on a pair of gloves and cut the things down. See you in the emergency ward. What a stupid suggestion!

  • Sean
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    Why doesn't the city want to do anything about this? It seems quite hazardous, especially to young children who might not always stay on approved paths, and are inclined to explore a bit.

  • Kent
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    My experience with Hogweed happened when playing golf on a local course last year. I hit a ball just off the fairway into the rough and brushed up against the plant when retrieving the ball. I was wearing shorts at the time, and a few moments after retrieving the ball, the skin on my calf started to burn as though someone had a blow-torch to it. I sprinkled some water on my leg and it continued to burn for about an hour or so. At first, I though it was stinger nettles, but in retrospect, it couldnt have been, since the pain was so acute. It was only this year when I heard reports of this Hogweed plant that I realized that it had to have been what I encountered last year. Anyway, this stuff is bad news. St. Johns should get rid of it while its still manageable.

  • chris
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    The mentality of these city workers amazes me. No we are not going to bother with this plant it is not causing no problems just the ones that are, then this plant flower burst sending 10,000 potentially new plants of around the city to only possibly harm children ,adults causing our province how many thousands in dollars for health care. I feel though just the same that Wanda Lewis like any other citizen who may have one in their yard or close to it should just cut the seed off and kill it with round up next spring.

    But it is the nature of councils and government to put money first before people and the environment.

  • mark
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    Since when did we leave it up to government to protect our kids? Put on a pair of gloves and cut the thing down, and burn it. Makes me wonder what happened to the Newfoundland spirit that kept us here for 500 years.

  • Rose
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Someone should cut one of those large hog weeds down and bring it to a city hall council meeting. That should get the ball rolling.

  • Penney
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    the grand concourse is maggoty with the stuff.

  • Ginny
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I brought this same story to the attention of The Telegram last August and they ran a story on it then. Maybe the half a dozen plants my son and I discovered along the Virginia River walking trail weren't enough to rattle the cages at City Hall last summer, and it's sad to see that even the discovery of more plants still prompt no City Hall action. The Concourse people did come out and check it out and promptly removed the offending weeds last August. Thankfully my son wasn't hurt, but unless the city and province develop a plan, or at the very least, a public awareness campaign, it's only a matter of time before someone will be seriously injured by this plant. Blindness is no laughing matter, nor is blistering skin that can become photosensitive for years.

    It's very sad indeed to see comments like If it starts to become a real problem then we'll certainly take appropriate measures to make sure the public is not harmed coming from Mr. Head. Why must we alwys be reactive here instead of proactive? A single plant is capable of producing in excess of 100,000 seeds. Do the math people. How long do you think it will take for this giant weed to become a problem?

  • b
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    If these were groing down at the waterfront in the vacinity of the cruise ships berth, oue esteemed mayor would make this a priority.

  • Ken
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I would have to try and spray it with something instead of waiting for the city especially if some small kids might be playing buy it. A chance of bad burns or blindness the spray is the lesser of two evils in this case.

  • doug
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Maybe they can develop a vaccine for it like the H1N1 and we can stand in line for hours for something we didn't really need in the first place. Run!, hide!'s coming!

  • RED
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Why does everyone these days expect someone else to do things for them? If this were anywhere near my property I would put on some protective clothing and destroy it myself. Can't people do anything for themselves anymore?

  • Nasty
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Go cry me a freaKin river. Come on out to our place in Trepassey if ya want the weed. Do not see the town paying to dig it up for me now do I.

    Get a shovel and do it yourself. Lazy people these days I tell ya.

  • L
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    If this weeds ends up in my neighborhood and hurts one of my children or family members, the city better have a frickin good lawyer!!!!!

  • Paul
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    A plant that can cause blindness seems pretty serious hazard to me. It seems to be working on City Council already.

  • Lewis
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    The Plant Is now jumping out at anyone ,leave it alone. It's where it suppose to be are you? Leave it alone.

  • Jeannette
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Does the city not know what the word INVASIVE means??

  • Bea
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Brian Head of public works states, if it starts to become a real problem then we'll certainly take appropriate measures... . Sounds like it has the potential to continue to spread rapidly. Perhaps it should be treated like a cancer....remove the plants now, while the problem is a smaller one to prevent a larger problem in the future.

  • darls
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    so whats the problem here ...if this plant is going to hurt the public why is the city and the government refusing to remove them....i guess one of their loved ones has to be scarred by these things before they do something....i sure hope noboby gets hurt but if these things are left to reproduce its only going to be a matter of time before something bad happens...

  • Brad
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    It's everywhere you look! I fear it's already too late. Have you seen that patch of un-mowed grass between a dance school and house on Torbay Road? It's FULL of the stuff! Also the un-cared for plot of grass and trees in front of Iron Wood golf course entrance is full of it too! This is RIGHT next to the sidewalk, anyone could brush up against it when it gets bigger and then there will be trouble!

  • john
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Just wondering if the city's response that it will do nothing to remove the one in an innocuos spot opens itself up to possible legal action if there is a child who comes into contact with it and is scarred for life? I guess it's a case of reactive repsonse rather than proactive measures. Truly sad but not surprising that the city takes this approach. Wake up people and do the right thing.

  • Concerned
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I think everyone should actually watch this video from WorkPlace BC

  • Philosopher
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    If this weed were threatening the beloved cruise ship industry, good ole Doc O'Keefe would be there with the rubber gloves himself hauling up every weed in sight. The people who run this city are a very sad joke.

  • Doug
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    This was another article I found ...note the last paragraph....

    Giant, poisonous weed spreading across Canada

    14/07/2010 8:15:41 PM News Staff
    It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel: a towering, toxic weed that can burn the skin if touched and even cause blindness.

    But giant hogweed is real and is being spotted all across the country, with some worrying the invasive plant is growing out of control.

    Giant hogweed, which can grow to 5.5 metres (20 feet), has been popping up just about everywhere this summer, from Vancouver Island -- where it's been a problem for years -- to river banks in Toronto and Ottawa. It's also spreading along roadsides in Nova Scotia and wasteland areas of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Although the plant can be impressive to behold, with its purple, mottled stem, huge leaves, and metre-wide flower head of white blooms, it can pose a threat to anyone who touches it without protective clothing.

    Small, blister-like pistules on the plant contain a toxic sap that can burn the skin once exposed to sunlight. If the toxin enters the eye, it can burn the cornea, causing temporary or even permanent blindness.

    Experts aren't sure how giant hogweed found its way into Canada or how long it's been here. The plant originates from Asia, and was probably brought into North America decades ago by someone who thought it would make a showstopping ornamental plant.

    However it arrived, the weed has become quite invasive in recent years. Earlier this week, Todd Boland, a scientist with Memorial University's Botanical Garden told The Canadian Press that the giant weed is getting out of control in St. John's, saying the city needed to manage it seriously.

    The problem with trying to stop giant hogweed is that its large roots make it difficult to dig up. Anyone who tries to do so has to wear full protective clothing, gloves and mask.

    Even after it's removed or simply mowed down, the weed can easily reseed itself. Each plant can produce 50,000 winged seeds which can remain viable in the soil for up to 15 years.

    Besides the obvious health hazards the plant holds, it also crowds out native species. And because it has relatively shallow roots that don't hold the soil as well as native species, infestations of hogweed can lead to soil erosion along riverbanks.

    People who come across the weed are warned to stay clear of it. If you come in contact with the plant:

    find shelter immediately, to stop the sap from photosynthesizing
    wash exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water
    The skin can redden 24 hours after exposure. An inflammatory reaction usually occurs after three days. If you have a reaction, you are advised to see a doctor.

    Anyone who thinks they've spotted giant hogweed should contact their local municipality to advise them of its location.

  • Kurt
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I still see no reason to allow the use of herbicide for this plant or any other plant in the future. Let nature in all it's wonderful glory do whatever it is it wants to do. This plant is natural, leave it alone, don't even think about herbicides. Herbicides are bad. Herbicides break down into naturally ocurring molecules within 48 hours after application so don't even think about it. Bad, bad herbicides. lol. Come to think of it, there are plenty of dangers in this world for adults and children alike. For example: streets with cars on them, homes with electrical outlets, kitchen sinks with fatal chemicals underneath them, etc, etc and so on and so forth. Oh, and let's not forget the ominous peanut butter in the school lunch rooms.

    How about parents be parents and educate the kids who are allowed outside their gardens. For toddlers, who can't be educated, keep them in the garden. Put up a fence if you don't have one. How simple is that ? The fact is, these plants are here to stay. Deal with it. Just be thankful we don't have to deal with other terrible things like small pox, consumption (tuberculosis) and such, like they did here in NL in the 1700s and 1800s which often killed all the children in the outports, and many of the adults too.

  • Wayne
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Maybe it should be planted on the Mayor's lawn and garden to see what he thinks of it?

  • 6 lookers
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    They cant remove them cause it will be 6 lookers looking at the plant and all of them will be figuring out which one person will try to remove it. and then it will be time for a break. then it will be time to pick up shovel, then the union call...then time for another break....etc.....

  • Robert
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Hey Mark!

    Totally agree with you!

    If these people are so concerned about a child's safety take care of the matter yourself!

    At some point government services must be paid by the taxpayer. Take care of it yourself and it cannot end up on our tax bill!

    And for what it worth that includes clearing sidewalks of snow!

  • ohmygod
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    This plant can also lead to death according to research and media reports that has reported this for the last couple of months.

  • Christo
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I love how Brian Head says If it starts to become a real problem then we'll certainly take appropriate measures to make sure the public is not harmed, How can this guy not realize that when it becomes a problem its too late. This is a case where you should nip it in the bud.

  • GJM
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Why would the photographer want to get a photo op THAT close to a dangerous plant? I would want to stand a fair distance from it. Considering the much documented proof that the dangerous effects of hogweed sap are activated by sunlight, I would want to stand a good few feet away from it.

    Over the coming days, we will see photos of happy people standing next to cliffs, someone smiling as they look out over a river of lava, someone laughing as they stick their head in a crocodiles' gaping mouth or someone throwing up a peace sign as they sink into a pool of quicksand.

    To HECK with personal safety! These pics will look GREAT all the same! ;)

  • deidra
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Burn the plant in a conatined area.

  • ivan
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Today i drove a woman,who works,for the conservation program of On.They are according,to her very,very concerned about this hogweed.What makes the councilors think they are smarter than Todd Boland,who is an expert on these invasive spieces.As the saying goes,you can't tell a hine's pickle nothing.It'll cost so much more,down the road,to deal with this problem,as to attack it now.Orginally from Bell Island,i care that all my Newfoundland family,& friends are well looked after.Political will does not exsist with the elected idiots that we seem to vote in each & every time.We need to vote in farmers,fishermen,welders.electrictricians,plumbers,& the like to have people who can listen to the laymen,& attack a problem,with regard to its seriousness.Asnake is a snake.A politician is an idiot,who belives,it is his or hers,inherant right,to over rule its voting public.As for those who suggested that the people who find this plants,do the distroying,I say to you,if you are so certian that you could do the job,please step too the front lines.If you can't be positive,please lead,as leaders are made of you heros who stand in the last row.Thanks for giving me the chance to rant.----------Ivan T.

  • W
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Excellent idea St. John's, wait until the entire city is covered then try and fix the problem, it's gonna be worse than teh span worm, at least the span worm was harmless to people.

  • John
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    There have been similar articles in Ontario papers concerning Giant Hogweed. Apparently such outbreaks do occur on occasion. Witness the following video clip:

  • Frank
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    The reason the city is dragging its heels on this: More union members will have work if the weed is allowed to spread.

  • weed wacker
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Frank from NL writes: The reason the city is dragging its heels on this: More union members will have work if the weed is allowed to spread.

    Yep, how many council workers would it take to dig up a to drive the truck, one to carry the shovel to and from the truck, one to show the other where to dig, one to dig, one to put the weed in a receptacle or bag. I guess it would take a minimum of five workers, whups, workers does not really describe these people.

  • Rayna
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I am glad the city council here in Toronto appears to be taking this issue more seriously. We are being told via media outlets that if we see one, we are not to touch it, but that we are to report it and the council will have it removed. They are showing up in the Don Valley, and even in resident's backyards here.

  • Gary
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    There is little surprise the City of St. John's is doing nothing about this. That's kind of par for the course isn't it? This isn't me being negative, just realistic.

  • Shawn
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Just seen this on youtube..Well worth the watch..Plant really should be removed.They have a team in this video removing them all over the city.

    Have a look..