The biology of invasive alien plants in Canada. 4. Heracleum mantegazzianum Sommier & Levier.
Heracleum mantegazzianum (giant hogweed) is an invasive alien plant of management concern in southern Canada where it has escaped from horticulture and established and spread in natural, ruderal, and agricultural ecosystems. It poses a threat to natural ecosystems and human health, and is also a weed in agricultural and urban areas. It is a member of the Carrot family (Apiaceae) and is closely related to the native species Heracleum maximum Bartram (cow-parsnip). It is a monocarpic perennial, which generally flowers in its 3rd or 4th year. Large size, leaf shape, dark reddish pigments in patches on stems and petioles, and fruit characteristics readily distinguish H. mantegazzianum from other plants in Canada. It is increasingly common in riparian areas, floodplains, and forest edges in or near urban areas in southwestern British Columbia and southern Ontario. Based on herbarium specimens, H. mantegazzianum was first recorded in Ontario in 1949, British Columbia in 1964, Nova Scotia in 1980, Quebec in 1990, and New Brunswick in 2000. The development of dense stands of H. mantegazzianum can also reduce the richness of native plants. Contact with H. mantegazzianum can cause phytophotodermatitis, a serious skin inflammation caused by UV photo-activation of furanocoumarins present in the sap. Control methods include herbicide application, mechanical cutting, and animal grazing, but strategies to address seed dispersal and re-establishment from dormant seed must also be adopted. Widespread establishment in southern Canada suggests that eradication is unlikely. However, range expansion and rapid population growth can be prevented through strategic management including public education.