06/05/2013 10:17 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Invasive giant hogweed starting to bloom in B.C.

Plant experts are warning people in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to stay away from the giant hogweed, a dangerous and invasive plant that is just starting to bloom.

Coming into contact with giant hogweed sap can cause severe blistering, large welts and burns.

“Any time that part of your skin is exposed to sunlight, the burns start to happen,” said Jennifer Grenz with the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver.

If the plant's sap gets into a person's eyes, it can also cause temporary or permanent blindness.

The plant, which can easily be confused with cow parsnip or Queen Anne’s lace, can grow up to six metres high and has serrated leaves as large as 1.5 metres across, as well as dark reddish-purple blotches on its stalks.

It produces white clusters of umbrella-like flowers and thrives near streams, creeks, ditches, roads and in vacant lots.

Anyone who spots the invasive plant is asked to contact municipal authorities.

Giant hogweed can also be identified and reported using the Report a Weed app for Android and iPhone.

“There are a number of tools that are included — website tools that you can take a look at what species it is,” said Gail Wallin with the Invasive Species Council of B.C.

“There are people in government that can actually identify the plant if you want to take a picture and scan a picture, it’s a really good way to deal with it."