Ever heard of Giant Hogweed? It’s a voracious plant that grows on river banks and one touch could turn you blind.
In the 80s – when Giant Hogweed was at its most prevalent – my father started this bizarre competition with our relatives Jack and Jill in Scotland, over who could spot the biggest Giant Hogweed. They started posting pictures (in the old-fashioned Royal Mail sense) of the vicious weed – to see who could out-do each other. Some weeds were up to 15 feet tall!
This obsession meant that my father would march the family up and down the banks of the River Ribble in Preston looking for the tallest batch of Hogweed he could find. He would then plonk my sister and I next to it as height markers and snap away.
I wish I could find photographic proof of this but, after scouring old photo albums, I fear all the pictures ended up in the hands of our Scottish relatives. So you’ll have to make do with me dressed as a giant carrot instead.
My mother always warned us never to get too close to the Hogweed as contact with skin could lead to a terrible rash.
As a result, I became utterly terrified of Giant Hogweed, convinced that a bit of it might touch my skin and turn me into an extra from Gremlins.
(This fear was only usurped by my mother telling me that pretty much all dogs in France might have rabies which, during our car tour of France one year, left me absolutely terrified that I might be savaged by a foaming-mouthed mutt.)
I was recently sat wondering whether there was any truth to the perils of this perennial (my mother is prone to bouts of extreme exaggeration).
But a quick Wiki search revealed: ‘Giant Hogweed can cause severe skin inflammations when the skin is exposed to sunlight or to ultraviolet 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.’
Jeez. Mother was not wrong.
I’d completely forgotten about my ingrained fear of Hogweed until quite by chance, I came across its evil cousin: Japanese Knotweed.
When we were in the process of buying our apartment, our solicitor Jackie – nicknamed The Rottweiler for her aggressive approach to conveyancing – uncovered the existence of Japanese Knotweed lurking in the valley below. Untreated, this rampant weed, which actually EATS through concrete and STRANGLES brickwork, could bring the whole apartment block tumbling down like a stack of cards.
For weeks, emails were to-ing and fro-ing on how to treat this problem. I think a specialist was drafted in – and we were eventually give the green light to go ahead with the purchase.
And in that strange way when you’re just thinking about a subject and it crops up some time soon after, The Times ran an article all about indestructible Japanese Knotweed. Tag line: It eats asphalt for breakfast.
‘In summer it grows 10 centimetres a day,’ wrote the journalist. ‘If you watch it closely enough, you can almost see it growing.’
He continued: ‘In 2012, mortgage lenders stopped mortgages if Japanese Knotweed was spotted on a property.’
I actually have no idea what happened to the deadly Japanese Knotweed at the bottom of the valley. Apparently, if chopped down, it simply grows back twice as quick; it’s the Hydra of the weed world!
The irony is, that for all their grumbles and complaints, our twitchy neighbours Susan and Dick never so much as uttered the words ‘Japanese Knotweed’. They’ve now moved out but I wished I had emailed them before they left with my concerns that The Knotweed Is Back: one final moan bone for them to gnaw on.
But if skin-singing Hogweed and concrete-chomping Knotweed were bad enough, there’s a new contender to the throne of Most Invasive Weed: Himalayan Balsam. If left unfettered, this beast will wipe out all other species across river banks.
Himalayan Balsam only hit my radar when I received an email from Friends of the Park last month. I thought I’d better join Friends of the Park (details here) given that out house is on the border of the park and I might need to garner sympathy for our much-maligned house extension.
The email contained an invitation to ‘A Big Balsam Bash’!
‘For those of you not aware, a new invasive species strategy has been devised for Leeds to tackle the main culprits: Himalayan balsam, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed,’ it said (cripes – the deadly trio, no less!).
‘As part of this strategy we hope to eradicate Himalayan Balsam from the tributaries of the River Aire.
‘Join in if you can – all you need is a pair of gloves, in case you grab a nettle by mistake!‘
I wonder how many takers there were for the Big Balsam Bash? No matter how you dress it up, the concept of throwing a party to spend the day clearing weeds from a river doesn’t exactly have the guests flooding in (no pun intended).
I might forward the invite to my father. I’m sure he’ll be interested.