Toxic weed fears spark flood of calls

Ottawa residents have flooded city officials with worried telephone calls since a giant toxic weed was discovered in city limits.
Giant Hogweed can grow up to seven metres tall. (CBC)
Ottawa residents have flooded city hall with worried telephone calls since a giant toxic weed was discovered in city limits.

Giant Hogweed, which can grow as high as seven metres, contains a toxic sap that can cause boils on human skin and even permanent blindness if it reaches the eyes.

Hundreds of people have called the city's information line since the weed, which is alien to Canada, was found in Ottawa. It was initially reported in Renfrew County, west of Ottawa, last week.

Jeff Muzzi, the manager of forestry services for Renfrew County, said he has been scrambling to respond to hundreds of reports of Giant Hogweed growing in the region.

"A lot of the municipalities are getting a lot of calls," Muzzi told CBC News.

Jeff Muzzi, manager of forestry services for Renfrew County, says he has fielded plenty of calls from area residents worried about Giant Hogweed. (CBC)
On Wednesday, Muzzi said, two reports were investigated but both turned out to be false alarms.

However, another call revealed nine of the plants growing in a backyard near Arnprior, just outside of Ottawa.

"There is nothing in this province that grows that big," Muzzi said.

David Barkley, manager of forest services for the City of Ottawa, said his agency acted quickly once the two plants — one in a public park in the south-end, the other at a west-end home — were discovered.

"The initial calls came in through 311 and were triaged out to the operational areas that removed them," he said.

Provincial and city officials are scrambling to keep up with the worried calls.

"It'll take us a few days to investigate … through our different services — public health or bylaw services or operational groups for parks and roadways."

Many of the reports have turned out to be false, often mistaking Giant Hogweed with wild or cow parsnip, which bears a strong resemblance. The main difference between the two toxic plants is that Giant Hogweed has unique purple blotches along its stem.

Each Giant Hogweed plant can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds, Barkley said, and that makes early detection a priority.

"Our main goal is to ensure that residents are aware that there is a risk; as well, if we could, minimize the spread of the invasive plant that's come in from another country."

Officials have urged residents not to try to dispose of the weed themselves, but rather to call the City of Ottawa at 3-1-1 or the Natural Resources Information Centre at 1-800-667-1940.