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Some Plant Look-a-likes You'll Want to Avoid

Certain native and invasive species produce a photo-toxic sap containing furanocoumarins within their stems and leaves. This chemical makes the skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet light, causing hyper sunlight sensitivity (phytophotodermatitus), severe burns and blistering, skin discoloration, and in some cases it can cause blindness if it gets into the eye. Others can be highly toxic if ingested by humans or animals. If you ingest any toxic plants, seek immediate medical help.

If you are working around these photo-toxic plants, wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, pants, boots, and eye protection to avoid coming into contact with the sap. If you do come into contact with their sap, immediately wash with soap and water. This will minimize the effects of the solution but will not fully prevent some of the symptoms. If strong symptoms arise, seek medical treatment. Untreated, the rash/burns could persist for up to 2 weeks, while the sunlight sensitivity could persist for up to 2 years. Keeping exposed skin covered will help with preventing severe burns.

Manual removal of these plants can be effective in small areas. The DEC recommends that pulling of these plants be done before they have gone to seed. If removal occurs after they have gone to seed, cut off the seed heads, place them in plastic bags, and leave them out in the sun for one week to kill the seed heads. Once the seed head is no longer viable, it can now be disposed of. Mowing of these plants after they have bloomed, but before they come to seed can also kill the plants. In some cases it may require a second go, as they can re-sprout. Herbicides can also be applied as spot treatments to new growth. Please refer to How to Control Giant Hogweed for more information on how to safely remove Giant Hogweed and other equally harmful plants from your property.

Photo-toxic Plants

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is native to Asia, but invasive to North America. It can reach heights of 14 feet or more with thick, hollow stems with ridges and purple blotches. The large compound leaves can reach up to 5 feet wide while it’s white flower heads can reach 2 ½ feet in diameter.


If you believe you have identified this plant on your property, please take several photos of the plant including the leaves, stem, flowers, and seeds (keeping a safe distance of course) and contact DEC or call the Giant Hogweed Hotline: 1-845-256-3111.

Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is native to Europe and Asia. This plant reaches 2-5 feet tall, having stems that are hairless and grooved, with yellow umbel flower clusters occurring from May-June. The leaves look like large celery leaves. We generally see this plant growing in fields, road ditches, or any other area of disturbance.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum) is native to North America. The plant can reach 4-10 feet in height and has stems that are fuzzy and grooved. The leaves are divided into 3 segments, with coarsely toothed leaflets. It has a white or cream flower, again arranged in an umbel cluster. Coming into contact with this plant can cause skin irritation, blistering rashes, and skin discoloration.

Angelica (Angelica spp.), native to Europe and Asia, belongs to the Wild Celery family and has many uses in ancient herbal remedies and several more modern uses. However, one must still be careful when handling the different varieties as it too can cause skin irritation and rashes. A well-grown plant can reach 6 feet in height, with hollow stems, and blackish-purple blotches. The flowers are greenish to whitish in color and form in round clusters rather than flat, umbel clusters.

Queen Ann’s Lace (Daucus carota) is native to Europe and Asia and has several uses in the herbal remedy community. However, for some it can cause skin irritation and blistering, and can possibly be toxic if ingested. This plant typically measures 1-2 feet tall with white umbel flower clusters (sometimes with a small reddish flower in the center). The stems are fuzzy with grooves.

Toxic if Ingested

Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is native to North America and typically measures 3-6 feet tall. The stems are smooth and hollow and may vary in color and pattern (from solid green or purple, to green with purple splotches or stripes). True to its name, it is typically found in wet soils associated with ditches, stream banks, and marshes. All parts of this plant are highly toxic to humans and animals. Ingestion of this plant could cause abdominal pain, convulsions, delirium, nausea, seizures, vomiting, and sometimes death.

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. All parts of this plant are highly poisonous to humans and animals. This plant typically reaches 3-8 feet in height, its stems are hairless and hollow with ridges and purple spots while its leaves are delicate like parsley. It has white flowers that grow in small, erect clusters. Each flower develops into a green, deeply ridged fruit that contains several seeds.

Signs of poisoning are: nervous tremble, salivation, lack of coordination, pupil dilation, rapid and weak pulse, respiratory paralysis, and sometimes death.

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