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Hogweed and pondweed; state takes lead

June 26, 2012
BY HILARY SMITH , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

It's been an exciting few weeks in the world of invasive species. There is activity afield and in Albany, too. Here is what is happening:


Taking to the trail?

Article Photos

Brendan Quirion, APIPP’s terrestrial coordinator, treats a giant hogweed infestation in Essex.
(Photo courtesy of APIPP)

Watch out for giant hogweed

You might think that a plant that grows to 14 feet with sap that can burn or blind you is something out of science fiction, but it isn't. Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is growing right here in the Adirondacks in Essex, Old Forge and Tupper Lake. Originally brought to the U.S. from Asia as a desirable ornamental, this giant menace has since spread by seed and shared plantings to hundreds of sites across New York. It thrives in edge and open habitats, putting at risk fields, meadows and floodplains. People are at risk too. Hogweed's caustic sap reduces skin's ability to protect itself from ultraviolet light resulting in severe burns, and, in worst cases, blindness.

Giant hogweed is flowering now. Look for a plant reaching heights of 8 to 14 feet with purple blotches and coarse white hairs on the stem. Leaves are lobed, deeply incised and up to 5 feet across. The flower is white, umbrella-shaped and up to 2-and-a-half feet across.

Don't be fooled by native look-alikes. Native cow parsnip is also flowering now but reaches heights of only 5 to 8 feet. Native angelica looks similar too, but has uniformly waxy green to purple stems. If you think you see giant hogweed, call the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program at 518-576-2082.


Lakebound? Keep an eye open for curlyleaf pondweed

When heat waves hit, the lake is the place to be. I was recently in Lower Saranac Lake and the Saranac River and saw curlyleaf pondweed, one of the eight invasive aquatic plants in the Adirondacks. Floating fragments bobbed near the shoreline, though plants are typically rooted at depths up to 16 feet.

Adirondack waters are home to more than 25 varieties of native pondweeds, and many of them are "curly" in appearance, but curlyleaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) is not like the others. It made its way to the US from Australia via the aquarium trade. It may look pretty in a tank, but it grows uncontrollably when released into the wild and degrades habitat and water quality.

Look for rigid, reddish-green leaves with distinct, finely toothed, wavy edges that resemble a lasagna noodle. The stems are flattened and reddish-brown. It forms bristly vegetative buds called turions that drop to the sediment and overwinter to start new plants after ice out, which is why infestations are usually seen early in the growing season.

If you think you see curlyleaf pondweed, take a sample, keep it wet in a baggie and call APIPP.


New York takes aim at invasive species

With only two days left in the legislative session, the Assembly and Senate passed a bill that will give New York the upper hand in the fight against invasive species. The bill, A9422 (Assemblyman Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst) and S6826 (Senator Little, R-Queensbury), gives the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets the authority to regulate the sale and transport of prohibited invasive species. The final bill language reflects input from industry, government and environmental groups and is a win for nature, agriculture and the economy.

What does this mean for the Adirondacks? It means that we have a fighting chance at preventing widespread degradation caused by invasive species. If the bill becomes law, plants like giant hogweed, curlyleaf pondweed and other invasives will no longer be available for sale, reducing the pressure put on our lands, waters and wallets by harmful non-native plants and animals.

Tune in to the next Eye on Invasives column for the line-up of events occurring during Adirondack Invasive Species Awareness Week, July 8 to 14.


Eye on Invasives is a biweekly column that spotlights a top invader when it is easiest to identify. Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a partnership program housed at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley. Find out more about this award-winning program online at



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