Ireland is being invaded by an alien species and the River Dargle is on the frontline!
Ok, that may seem a little bit OTT but is not completely crazy when the reference is to non-native invasive plant species.
One only has to look along the banks of the Dargle or its tributary the Glenmunder Stream to see the evidence: stands of Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum – see photo) lining the river bank.
Giant Hogweed has a stout, dark reddish-purple stem and spotted leaf stalks that are hollow and produce sturdy bristles. It flowers from late spring to mid summer, with numerous white flowers clustered in an umbrella-shaped head.
It typically grows to heights of 2–5 metres (6ft 7in–16ft 5in), sometimes reaching 7 metres (23ft)! A monster indeed!
Giant Hogweed is related to Common Hogweed and Garden Angelica but unlike them it is not a native of Ireland - it is native to the Caucasus Region and Central Asia. It was introduced to Ireland and Britain as an ornamental plant in the 19th century and has now also spread to Finland, Germany, France, Belgium, United States and Canada.
Ornamental maybe but dangerous too as the plant is phototoxic. Its sap can cause phytophotodermatitis (severe skin inflammations) when the skin is exposed to sunlight or to UV-rays. Initially the skin colours red and starts itching. Then blisters form as it burns within 48 hours. They form black or purplish scars that can last several years. Hospitalisation may be necessary. Presence of minute amounts of sap in the eyes can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness. So beware and avoid!
What is being done about it? Well, it seems an Invasive Alien Species Strategy for the Republic of Ireland is under way – also in Northern Ireland – led by the National Botanic Garden so we will see what that comes up with.
Certainly action is required to limit or eliminate this invasive toxic monster if it is not to take us over completely (or our riverbanks at any rate!)
And if you come across it while walking a river bank – you have been warned!