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      Agency warns NY: Beware the giant hogweed

      Burns from giant hogweed / NYS DEC Photo

      A monster plant with flowers the size of umbrellas and sap that causes blisters and blindness is spreading across New York.

      It's the giant hogweed, an invasive species, and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is asking for help locating outbreaks so they can send crews to nip it in the bud.

      It appears to be concentrated most heavily out in western New York, but it's popping up in parts of Central New York. Locally, we're seeing it in Onondaga, Madison, Tompkins, Oneida, Lewis, Jefferson, Cayuga and Oswego counties. They're typically seen in rural areas and even some state forests.

      Click here to see a map of where the hogweeds are being spotted.

      Giant hogweeds can grow to 15 feet or more, and they pose a serious health threat. Its sap combined with moisture and sunlight can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scaring and even blindness.

      DEC officials recommend you do not touch it. If you think you've been burned by one, contact your doctor. View some graphic photos of the burns hogweeds can cause and read some safety tips.

      Giant hogweeds have hollow, ridged stems which grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. Its leaves can grow up to 5 feet wide. It's white flower heads can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter. Read more about how to identify a giant hogweed. See more pictures of it.

      The DEC has a Giant Hogweed Hotline at (845) 256-3111 for people to call and report sightings. Callers are asked to provide photos and site information, but avoid touching the plant. Email your photos to the DEC.

      This is DEC's fourth year of controlling giant hogweed. Six crews totaling 14 people will visit most of the 944 known giant hogweed sites. Sites with less than 400 plants will be controlled by hand cutting their roots; sites with more than 400 plants will be controlled with herbicide.

      Have you seen any instances of Hogweed in your area? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!