Warning: poisonous plants

Giant HogweedBrought to the region 50 years ago by “an English colonel” who planted it in his garden at Thorenc, the Giant Hogweed now looks like it’s becoming plant public enemy number one.In our last issue we wrote about “the invaders”, those insects – most dangerous of all the Asian hornet – who’ve moved into our region and, in that latter case, can actually kill us. A woman died of an Asian hornet’s sting on Cap Ferrat just a few weeks ago. But it’s not just immigrant insects we have to worry about. Now we’re facing a threat from vicious vegetation. Imagine a plant which grows up to four metres high that – if you touch it – can leave you, to quote a victim, “with huge red blisters as if I’d been in contact with hot metal”. Sounds like science fiction? Not at all. Meet the Giant Hogweed (Berce du Caucase). According to the story it was brought here from some colonial outpost in 1960 by “an English colonel” who planted it in his garden at Thorenc in the Alpes-Maritimes. Around a decade or so ago it had escaped into the surrounding countryside and now looks to become plant public enemy number one.

Dr Bernard Pigearias, a specialist in phytogenic pathology (ailments caused by plants), explains: “If you touch it, get its sap on your skin and then are exposed to the sun you end up with very nasty burns.” (Phytic dermatitis). But there’s another unwelcome plant visitor with us: that’s Ambrosia (Ambroisie) which came into France well over a century ago and in recent decades has been spreading rapidly in our region. According to Dr Pigearias, “Its pollen is among the most unpleasant in its effect, producing irritation of the eyes and nose, in some cases asthma.” So what’s the solution to these new threats to our comfort and well-being? Says Pierre Boyer, of the Office National des Forêts, “In theory, these species could be eliminated, but they’re spreading fast. The problem is we just don’t have the financial resources necessary to deal with them.”