CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio - This was one weed that Savery Rorimer wasn't going to dig up with her hands. There were too many, and they were too big. But blasting them with herbicides was no good. The chemicals could have harmed her organic beef and vegetable farm less than a half-mile away.
CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — This was one weed that Savery Rorimer wasn’t going to dig up with her hands. There were too many, and they were too big.
But blasting them with herbicides was no good. The chemicals could have harmed her organic beef and vegetable farm less than a half-mile away.
So Rorimer found another solution to deal with the thousands of mysterious plants that had invaded the far reaches of her Geauga County property.
"Black plastic bags,” she said. “I covered the top part, where the seeds are, with a plastic bag so that those seeds at least couldn’t blow in the wind.”
Her instincts were spot on. This was no normal invader. Heracleum mantegazzianum, or giant hogweed, had moved in. This weed can grow taller than 15 feet, choke out all nearby flora, severely burn your skin as long as 48 hours after contact and even cause blindness.
“It’s not just a weed — it’s a dangerous weed,” said David Marrison, director of the Ohio State University Extension in Ashtabula County.
There is some good news in Ohio. This weed is still pretty rare, typically popping up in Ashtabula, Geauga and Cuyahoga counties.It is more common in Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, where state officials warn residents not to touch the plant and to leave eradication to the pros. It is on both the Ohio and federal noxious-weed lists.
A state survey in 2010 found giant hogweed in nine locations in northwestern Ohio with varying amounts of flowering weeds, said Dan Kenny, the Department of Agriculture’s assistant plant health chief.
“People get a pretty darn bad reaction from poison ivy, but this seems to be to a different degree. It can be a serious issue for some people,” Kenny said.
He said the state is concerned only about the giant hogweed found in the 2010 survey. The state hasn’t done one since and doesn’t have another one lined up.
The plant, native to the Caucasus Mountains in central Asia, was introduced in the United States as a garden plant about a century ago for its striking appearance and beautiful white flowers. It is sold in some nurseries, leaving homeowners to wonder what they’ve planted once the weed has grown to full size.
Rorimer first caught a glimpse of hogweed five years ago in some forested land downstream from her crops at Snake Hill Farm, where she works with her husband, Louis, and son, James.
“You can see it coming,” Mrs. Rorimer said.
After reading up on the weed, she called the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The state does not try to eradicate it, but the U.S. and Pennsylvania departments of agriculture do.
“We’re always concerned about a federal noxious weed. Some states have more of the giant hogweed than the other states do, so really (the federal response) depends on the state,” said Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
In Ohio, the feds take the lead.
Brett Gates, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said Ohio hasn’t called in an agency to clear giant hogweed since 2011.
State and federal inspectors went to Snake Hill Farm to take samples and study the problem. Finally, in 2011, Pennsylvania agriculture officials showed up and treated as many as 2,000 plants.
The Rorimers suspect someone thought the plants were pretty and planted them years ago.
Marrison said that continues to happen in Ohio and elsewhere.
Despite the eradication work two years ago, the weed appears to have made a comeback on the Rorimers’ property. Dozens of plants, about knee-high, were growing in the same spot. This month, Mrs. Rorimer wrapped the tops of two plants — one nearly 7 feet tall, the other about 4 feet — with black plastic bags.
She said she is sure those bags are the only reason the giant hogweed hasn’t gained a foothold in her crop fields.Mr. Rorimer said he plans to call the state to let officials know the plant is back.
“It’s crazy,” he said.