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I had a brush with giant hogweed 50 years ago – and it is now more painful than ever

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A pensioner that was exposed to 50 years ago, still has more painful wounds then ever.

George Parsonage, 80, was exposed to the ‘Britain’s most dangerous plant’ in the 1960s, while working on Glasgow‘s waterways.

Though the initial wound was small, it remained sensitive to sunlight for decades, so he was given a spray to treat the injury.

But ‘all hell broke loose’  when the old wound began to flare up and left an open sore on his arm.

He said: ‘The giant hogweed burn wasn’t that bad with me, it was what came after it.

‘It just looked like a pinkie nail on my arm – a tiny, tiny wee mark that you would get after a burn. It never bothered me at all.

George Parsonage, 80, is still suffering from giant hogweed wounds 50 years after he was exposed to the dangerous plant while working on waterways in Glasgow

George Parsonage, 80, is still suffering from giant hogweed wounds 50 years after he was exposed to the dangerous plant while working on waterways in Glasgow

Despite starting off as a small wound, exposure to sunlight caused Mr Parsonage's injury to flare up and leave an open sore

Despite starting off as a small wound, exposure to sunlight caused Mr Parsonage’s injury to flare up and leave an open sore

‘It used to be slightly affected by sunlight, but it was no bigger than a centimetre square.

‘They sent me a spray and it started to go away, but then all hell broke loose. And I was told to stop the spray immediately.’

What is giant hogweed?

Giant hogweed or Heracleum mantegazzianum is an invasive species found in Britain.

From the same family as cow parsley, it produces white flowers in June and July.

Although impressive looking, the weed is harmful, with  its sap able to cause photodermatitis or photosensitivity – causing skin to blister, pigment and scar, while making it sensitive to sunlight.

Originally from southern Russia and Georgia, the weed is now a discovery in many British gardens.

Due to its severe threat, it is an offence to cause it to grow in the wild in the UK.

Source: RHS

Despite an attractive appearance, giant hogweed sap can be harmful

Despite an attractive appearance, giant hogweed sap can be harmful

 

The giant hogweed is native to the Caucasus Mountains in , but was introduced to Britain as an ornamental plant in 1817, and its spread has now got out of control.

It was called ‘without a shadow of a doubt, the most dangerous plant in Britain

Giant hogweed sap stops the skin protecting itself against the sun, leading to gruesome burns when exposed to daylight.

And because it often causes no immediate pain, its victims can continue to burn in the sun heedless of any problem.

What’s more, the plant can spread its sap with only a moment’s exposure. The short-term injuries can be painful enough, but for some, the affected area can remain sensitive to sunlight long term.

Giant hogweed seeds are often dispersed by water, so it’s usually found blooming along rivers and streams. It is an offence to cause the invasive species to grow in the wild.

Despite being an impressive sight, it poses a ‘serious risk to people who are unaware of its potential for harm’, according to the RHS.

Mr Parsonage was right in the firing line. He said: ‘I worked on the rivers all the time. I was very, very careful.

‘It was a really bad reaction. It went from being the size of a pinkie nail, to what you see now – it’s quite large now.

‘There is no doubt it’s getting worse, but to get anything done with it would mean me going into a hospital, getting a skin graft and things.

‘At my age, and state of health, it is not worth it.’

Mr Parsonage, who is a retired lifeboat officer, spent more than 40 years saving lives on the River Clyde in Glasgow, clocking up over 1,500 rescues in that time.

He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was was leader of the city’s Humane Society, the world’s longest continuing lifeboat service. Mr Parsonage was awarded an MBE in 1999.

George Parsonage at 61. The now retired lifeboat officer, he spent 40 years saving lives on the River Clyde in Glasgow

George Parsonage at 61. The now retired lifeboat officer, he spent 40 years saving lives on the River Clyde in Glasgow

Speaking out to warn others about the dangers of giant hogweed, he advised people to both avoid and report the invasive weed.

He said: ‘One, you must stay clear of it – absolutely clear of it.

‘And the second thing is: it is your duty to report it, because in my opinion you have a responsibility.

‘I would blame you if you did not report it and some children who walk along the same path as you get burned with it. 

‘It’s a dangerous plant and the council should get rid of it, but they can only get rid of it if people report it.’

He continued: ‘There are an awful lot of people, an awful lot worse than me. I just use myself as an example.

‘I have seen plant workers with horrendous burns on their stomachs and stuff. There was one a few years ago, and I have seldom seen such horrendous burns as was on this boy.

He added: ‘I stay well, well away from it.’



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