Stalking giant hogweed – and other noxious weeds – in West Seattle

(Photos courtesy King County Noxious Weed Control)

King County Noxious Weed Control Program specialists were in West Seattle again today – for the second time this week, removing an infestation of a plant that’s one of the most noxious they tackle: Giant hogweed.

We contacted them after two WSB readers suggested we follow up on TV reports about a patch of this weed getting removed in West Seattle earlier this week. Sasha Shaw answered our inquiry and explained, it’s not that West Seattle is a particular hotbed of giant hogweed, but rather, the TV folks contacted her looking for a local angle on a story from the East Coast about someone getting badly burned by this weed, and it just so happened that West Seattle was where their most-recent report of a giant hogweed happened to be. Here’s a photo from that first stop, in the Genesee Hill area, on Tuesday:

Shaw is the communications specialist for the program, which is part of the county Natural Resources and Parks department. She explains, “Our program has the big job of stopping the spread of state-regulated noxious weeds such as giant hogweed throughout King County, including in the cities. For the Class A noxious weeds such as giant hogweed, which are limited in distribution in the state, we offer to help people with the control work because of the huge public benefit to stopping these highly invasive and damaging plants from becoming established. Giant hogweed also poses a serious health risk because of the potential of the sap to cause burns and blisters.”

(Here’s their info sheet about giant hogweed, so you can find out more about it.)

She also clarified that the removals in Genesee on Tuesday and Admiral today aren’t the first discoveries of this scary weed in our area: “We have responded to locations of this plant in West Seattle many times. It isn’t the neighborhood in Seattle with the most giant hogweed, but we have found several hundred sites there over the past 15 or so years that we have been working on this plant. We typically find some new sites every year, but more locations are closed than opened as the plants get controlled.”

She points out that you can use the county’s map to “zoom in and see the locations of all the giant hogweed sites we have found in West Seattle, as well as other regulated noxious weeds.” Go to https://gismaps.kingcounty.gov/iMap/ – and, she advises, “turn on the Noxious Weeds layer, select ‘Most Widespread Noxious Weeds,’ zoom in to West Seattle and look for the little green icons that look like pine trees.”

She continued: “At this point, most of the giant hogweed in West Seattle, and other parts of the city, is out of sight in ravines, alleys and backyards. Typically we find new sites when people contact us either about their own hogweed or their neighbor’s plants. Hogweed spends several years as small plants and can be inconspicuous especially in areas overgrown with other vegetation like blackberry. When they flower they are 10 to 15 feet tall so that is often when people discover them. Sometimes people get burned by the sap while working in the yard and then contact us to find out what they have. That’s what happened in the case of the West Seattle homeowner that was featured on KING5 News, although they actually got burned last year but didn’t know why until they found a flowering plant in their alley and identified it online. … People do get seriously burned by this plant so getting the word out as widely as possible is very important.” Also note, this is already toward the end of giant hogweed’s season, and most of the plants are dying back.

This isn’t the only “big problem” noxious weed/invasive plant out there – “but few that are regulated noxious weeds, highly dangerous to people and very invasive,” Shaw notes. We’re going to take her up on her offer to talk with us for a separate story about other weeds you should watch for. (You can start reading about them all here!)

19 Replies to "Stalking giant hogweed - and other noxious weeds - in West Seattle"

  • nw mama July 19, 2018 (10:35 pm)

    “We’re going to take her up on her offer to talk with us for a separate story about other weeds you should watch for.”   – Yes please! 

  • Astro July 19, 2018 (11:15 pm)

    Thanks for posting this. I do wish more stories talked about the process for removing them. Do they dig them up in hazemat suits? Just curious.

    • WSB July 19, 2018 (11:34 pm)

      No. If you watch the KING story we linked in the quote where Sasha mentioned them, one of her co-workers mentions wearing gloves and long pants. (But heck, that’s what I wear to tackle blackberries, and with those, your only real risk is scratches.)

  • Pelicans July 20, 2018 (1:14 am)

    I vividly remember the first time I saw one of these. It was in summer 1985, and I was walking home up 154th Ave SW from Southcenter toward Pac Highway. There was a vacant overgrown lot next to the sidewalk and it had several of these large plants. They were much taller than I was and I remember that I had the chills, just looking at them. They looked like the much smaller Queen Anne’s Lace, but were enormous. They made such an impression that I tried to tell my boyfriend at the time how creeped out I had been by them. He wouldn’t even let me finish my story, dismissing it as girly foolishness. We broke up soon after that. I learned that they were called “cow parsnip”, but didn’t know until today how dangerous they are. Sheesh!

    • Karen July 20, 2018 (1:58 pm)

      They are not the same plant, but often mistaken.   A quick web search will give you pages of info on them.

  • Lynnbob July 20, 2018 (6:48 am)

    I had a tiny house off of Delridge many years ago.  I had one of these growing in my yard.  I didn’t know what it was, until my landscaper told me and it was removed.  I never got burned by it, so I guess I was lucky.  My philosophy on unfamiliar plants (especially if they appear creepy to you), is have them removed!

  • Julia July 20, 2018 (8:25 am)

    Just looked at that map and was horrified at how common they’ve been throughout our neighborhood. Scary!

  • Astro July 20, 2018 (9:02 am)

    Thanks for the reply WSB. I watched the King 5 link. That’s just crazy wearing ordinary clothing and the equipment is going to have sap on it. I remember a gardener at a former apartment removing one. He too didn’t know that it was a dangerous plant and ended up going to the hospital.

    • Maria July 23, 2018 (5:16 pm)

      Hi I’m the Noxious weed specialist for West Seattle, I’ve been digging up and cutting down giant hogweed for 15 years, just wearing long sleeves, glasses long pants & gloves and the only time I ever got a very small burn was when there was a big gap between my glove and sleeve.  It is actually very easy to protect yourself. The sap is watery, it dries quickly on tools and clothing and is not dangerous when dried. (Not at all like poison oak or ivy where the oils are the toxins and they stick to tools and clothing).  Just an FYI

  • Saffa Bardaro, Water and Land Resources Division of King County's Dept. of Natural Resources and Parks July 20, 2018 (10:02 am)

    The Noxious Weed Team is great! You can call or email them with questions or directions for removal. They offer workshops in English and Spanish and you can also report noxious weeds online. For more information, please call or email at noxious.weeds@kingcounty.gov or 206-477-WEED (206-477-9333).  http://www.kingcounty.gov/weeds   

    • AHNeighbor July 20, 2018 (4:48 pm)

      Thank you Saffa!

  • PlantFan July 20, 2018 (11:06 am)

    Thank you so much for this story. Super fascinating and your pictures are so much better than those on other news stories. The scale of the plants was not apparent in other stories. In case anyone is curious about the damage the plant does, here is a picture in the East Coast story (link below). These 3rd-degree burns happened from just brushing up on the plant. Crazy stuff. Can’t wait to hear about other weird plants! Thank you for being such a great service for our community. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/woman-suffers-severe-burns-blisters-from-wild-parsnip-plant/

  • Karen July 20, 2018 (12:58 pm)

    #pelicans, hogweed and cow parsnip are not the same plant, are often confused.  A quick web search will give you pages of info on both.

    • Pelicans July 21, 2018 (1:42 am)

      Karen, Thank you for the clarification. They’re so similar, that I’m not sure now which one I saw so long ago. It was still creepy!

  • JayDee July 22, 2018 (11:46 am)

    I was doing research for my geology MS and part of the work involved clearing brush and weeds from my outcrops. It was summer in SW Wisconsin and I apparently got some hogweed sap on my leg, only to find two large blisters on my legs when I got back to my apartment.  I learned later that it was hogweed–a fellow student also got burned on her leg. Needless to say, I give any white “queen anne’s lace” looking flower a good distance. 

  • nfolsom July 22, 2018 (12:43 pm)

    That’s instructive. Also super, super creepy. Giant hog weed on the golf course! Also, very glad there’s a reason I hate Tansy Ragwort. 

  • nfolsom July 22, 2018 (12:58 pm)

    P.s. “Stalking?” I see what you did there. ;-)

  • Trickycoolj July 22, 2018 (8:54 pm)

    Just saw tons of these along the edges of Interbay golf course. Many seem to have been dried out dead but not all. Was glad to have just read about them as I fished my ball out of blackberries and giant hogweed 

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