Recently, tangling with a Tetrapanax stump left me with a nasty gouge that managed to keep me out of the garden for the four weeks. This accident, coupled with the awful news of the spread of Heracleum mantegazziamum, left me to ponder on the safety of our gardens.
The truth is that vigilance is required in the garden. Experienced gardeners learn how to recognize poison ivy. We have to appreciate bees from afar if we have an allergy to their stings. As we grow older, chores that once were simple now prove more difficult: We have to learn to totter on uneven ground — something that seemed so easy when we were younger while weeding can cause our backs to ache.
Along with this increased vigilance as we age is the recognition that not all plants are our friends. Some are quite poisonous, which is something to consider if young children and/or beloved pets roam the garden. The castor bean plant, Ricinus communis, produces red berries that could easily entice a young child or a dog that insists upon tasting everything. Who knew that Rudbeckia could cause problems if ingested?
Now the news that giant hogweed is on a march from the northeast to the south is causing disquiet in my gardening soul —I didn’t even know there was such a thing as giant hogweed, which now happily resides in Virginia. Unhappily, Virginia is a state that borders North Carolina so it is only a matter of time before we see it here.
Native to the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia, giant hogweed arrived in Europe as an ornamental plant and is now prevalent in Canada, Europe, and the American northeast. This is a tall plant, one that is impossible to ignore, with accompanying large white flowers. The hollow stem, covered with white hairs, has purple splotches.
The reason this plant is so lethal is because the sap contains chemicals called furanocoumarins that induce a horrid burn on the skin when exposed to sun. Just one exposure to the sap will prevent your enjoying basking in the sun for several years. For more information on this dangerous plant, see: https:///www.popsci.com/giant-hogweed-burn-spreading#page-4.
Plants are not the only danger, as pollinators can also pose a threat. I have, over the years, learned to respect yellow jackets. Yellow jackets are ground nesters, making it hard to live in peaceful coexistence. For several years they nested in the lawn that periodically had to be mowed. As soon as the mower came in contact with their entrance the soldiers came out to do battle. Another year they settled in the front of the perennial border, an area I had occasion to frequently step on. Yellow jacket soldiers defending their turf are exceedingly unpleasant.
The result was that I had to settle on chemical warfare — something I am not proud of — but after receiving 150 stings, I felt I had no choice. Old timers will frequently recommend pouring gasoline down the nest at twilight, something that probably will not improve the quality of your soil.
All this is written not to scare you but to urge you to be vigilant. Remember, the Garden of Eden was perfect — except it had the temptation of those dangling apples hanging from the tree of knowledge.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: email@example.com.