A DANGEROUS plant is rapidly emerging across Scotland much earlier in the year than usual, an expert has warned.

The caustic plant Giant Hogweed has been spotted by one of Scotland’s leading weed control and tree management specialists, Keith Gallacher.

The weed expert has noticed young shoots of the rapidly spreading and dangerous plant emerging from winter dormancy in March.

He warned that this is an unusually early sprouting of the enormous Heracleum Mantegazzianum, commonly known as Giant Hogweed, which can grow up to six metres high.

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Gallacher said the early emergence of Giant Hogweed could be down to a mild and wet spring, as March had 27% more rainfall than normal in the UK, and that it could lead to greater infestations of the plant.

He added the early sprouting of the hazardous plant means there is potential for it to spread tens of thousands of seeds after it flowers in June and July.

Gallacher said: “Our teams saw the much-earlier-than-expected appearance of the young Giant Hogweed during routine inspections in East Lothian, near Musselburgh.

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“With such an early start, and with the rate of growth of which the plants are capable, it is likely that 2024 will be a bumper year for this rapacious invader.

“Like many invasive species, such as Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam, it was brought to the UK as an architectural oddity, but now it has escaped and, without any natural enemies, it grows into dense colonies, especially along watercourses.

“It is part of the Apiaceae family, which includes carrots, parsnip, cumin, coriander, and parsley, but its dense foliage prevents light reaching the soil underneath, killing off native plants and leading to rapid soil erosion.”

Giant Hogweed’s sap can cause severe burns with lasting effects such as scarring and chronic dermatitis.

The National: Keith Gallacher is director of Complete Weed Control

Gallacher, who is the director of Complete Weed Control, which covers the greater part of Scotland, will treat the plants but has warned that eliminating Giant Hogweed requires a concerted and sustained effort by all landowners in an affected area.

He said: “If you leave it too late, the plants get larger and become more difficult to spray and require more herbicide.

“But if you do it too early and you get the torrential rains like we’ve had these last few weeks, the herbicide won’t have much effect.”