Giant Hogweed, often found along roadsides, is a particularly dangerous invasive species that poses a threat to both the native flora and fauna, particularly humans.
That old familiar ‘Adirondack wave’ has again become a popular sight. It is practiced by anglers and gardeners, hikers and paddlers and just about anyone else who dares to enjoy the Adirondack outdoors at this time of year.
This annual invasion of flying pests, much like a long stretch of subzero, blustery winter days, serves to remind us of the extent of misery that some people are willing to endure just to live in such a beautiful region.
While some locals still claim black flies were initially introduced as a natural tourist repellent; the annual invasion of tiny bugs with a nasty bite appears to be indiscriminate. They bite locals as well as visitors alike.
When black flies are in the air, they will also be in your hair, behind you ears, down your neck and even up your paint legs.
Although nobody is completely safe outdoors at this time of year, there are a few measures that seem to help in addition to the usual swatting, slapping, spraying and gooping up.
Black flies are a naturally occurring invasive species, they’ve been around a long time. They are not an introduced pest, and tall tales of their wrath have been a common complaint since travelers first ventured into the region.
Often it is a first time visitor that suffers the most, as uninitiated travelers rarely realize the potential horror until it is too late.
Many ‘first timers’ become instant ‘last timers as they depart the region with puffy eyes, trickles of dried blood behind their ears and a natural neckless of red puffy lumps hidden under a bloodied shirt collar;
Local Adirondackers are used to dealing with flies. Generally, they’ll just swing and swat at them while muttering a few choice words under their breath. Most locals realize black flies are just an early season pest, and they’ll soon disappear in due time. They’ve learned to deal with them by covering up any exposed skin.
Of course, we all know that black flies will soon be replaced in sequence by a Rogues gallery of similar threats that include mosquitoes, no-see-ums, deer flies and horse flies.
And don’t forget about the ever growing threat of ticks, which are on currently on the rise in the North Country.
While the local bugs and flies may be bad, the region’s plants and bushes can be even worse.
Relief is in sight, even when the bugs aren’t
Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with the threat of black fly attacks, as well as horse flies and deer flies. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where flies are more of an annoyance than a true hazard. However, it wasn’t always so. I recall coming home as a youngster from an extended camping trip, with my ears swollen up like cranberry muffins.
I’ve since learned to cover up effectively, tucking pant legs into socks and wearing turtle neck shirts. I strive to limit the amount of exposed flesh skin, by covering it up with fabric or bug spray.
I’ve also begun tucking my pant legs into my socks to prevent access to ticks which tend to attach on the lower extremeness.
I also spend the majority of the spring on the water, which seems to keep the bugs at bay, since black flies cannot fly in winds of 10 mph or greater.
This is a good time to be on the water fishing or along a windward shore, for although people don’t like bugs, trout certainly do.
The good news is that blackflies have a short life span and are only around for about a month. However, about the same time the blackflies begin to depart, the mosquitos and no-see-ums begin to appear.
They will be followed by deer flies and horse flies, and finally by the dreaded ‘No-See-Ums’, which have a stinging bite.
The other invaders
While blackflies and ticks, deer flies and mosquitoes pose the most evident threat to Spring travelers, there is a more pressing concern with what may be growing just outside your own front door.
In recent week’s, I’ve become painfully aware of a host of invasive species that are rapidly overtaking the Adirondack scene.
Japanese knot weed has been spreading up and down the corridors of many local rivers and streams, where it has pushed out many native species, especially the ferns.
The tall, bamboo-like stalks have actually taken root in the riverbed of several small streams, which makes them nearly impossible to fish.
Another common invasive that’s been popping up all over is garlic mustard, which has taken over roadside parking areas, and many local gardens.
While the garlic mustard is unsightly, it is not noxious as some of the other plants are.
Reportedly, there have been outbreaks of Giant Hogweed, as well as Black Swallow -wort in several sections of the park, particularly in Hamilton County.
Black swallow-wort can form extensive patches that crowd out native vegetation. Old field habitats of goldenrod and grasses can be replaced almost exclusively by swallow-wort, which can completely change the physical structure, as well as the habits of the native creatures that live there.
Giant Hogweed out competes its native rivals by shading them out, but it also poses a dangerous threat to humans who may come in contact with it.
For giant hogweed to affect a person, sap from a broken stem or crushed leaf, root, flower or seed must come into contact with moist skin (perspiration will suffice) with the skin then being exposed to sunlight.
Typically, irritation is not immediate, but will usually appear within one to three days after exposure.
It results in a form of skin irritation known as“phytophotodermatitis” which sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet radiation. Exposure can result in severe burns, blistering, painful sores, and purplish or blackened scars.
This process is far worse than a simple case of poison ivy, as it can stay with you and reoccur years later.
The first signs of a giant hogweed-caused photodermatitis occur when the skin begins to turn red and starts to itch. Generally, burn-like lesions form within 24 hours, which are followed by large, fluid filled blisters within 48 hours.
The initial irritation typically subsides within a few days, but the affected area may remain hypersensitive to ultraviolet light and re-eruptions of lesions and blisters may occur for many years. It is a wound that keeps on giving.
On rare occasions, particularly in very sensitive individuals, the burns and blisters may be bad enough to require hospitalization.
Hogweed removal is a tedious process that should be attempted only by trained experts. For further information please visit The Adirondack Nature Conservancy website at http://adk-invasives.blogspot.com/2013/12/hamilton-countys-giant-hogweed-movie.html.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.