Hogweed creeping up in handful of Dorset locations

·2 min read

Out on a walk with his dog Taiga, Dorset resident Ryan Morin took the path he regularly does along Kawagama Lake Road and up toward the Nordic Inn.

Morin, an ecologist, likes to explore the area there, where he often finds rare plants. It was on his way up Nordic Inn Road where he found hogweed, an uncommon but growing sight along the border where the Township of Lake of Bays meets the Algonquin Highlands.

“This one is just getting humungous and almost coming out to the road,” said Morin, who counts this as the third location he has spotted the plant currently growing.

Hogweed is a common name used for multiple kinds of the genus, Heracleum.

The plant can grow up to 14 feet in height and, in late summer, blooms a white flower. However, its stems are home to prickly red particles and full of toxic sap because they contain chemical compounds called, furanocoumarins.

When exposed to UV rays, Phytophotodermatitis occurs — an inflammation of the skin that leads to blistering, burns and in extreme cases, blindness.

“It’s obviously a big human safety issue if you happen to not know what it is,” Morin said. Complicating matters further is that hogweed is often mistaken for cow parsnip and vice versa, because of their similar appearance.

“It takes a bit of a plant eye to be able to tell the difference,” he said.

From an ecological perspective, Morin said the hogweed doesn’t seem to be invading the habitat, despite spotting it in multiple locations.

It’s kind of a unique thing, at least to me, to have in Dorset,” he said, because to his knowledge, it is more prevalent in southern Ontario. “Obviously, there is something that’s brought it here.”

The Township of Lake of Bays does keep an eye out for hogweed, said public works superintendent Steve Peace. If found in the road allowance, the municipality takes care of removing or treating it, but also encourages people to report it directly.

“We see the odd little bit in Lake of Bays,” Peace said. Between the township, the district and the Ministry of Natural Resources, he said, “everybody is doing what they can to stay on top of it.”

Morin said he has warned his neighbours and made phone calls to both townships to report the hogweed and some has been removed as a result.

At the time of this writing, Kristyn Anthony was a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada.

Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com