Alongside puttering around the garden this summer, many green thumbs are also perusing the EU's new list of invasive alien species. In mid-July the European Commission declared war on 37 plant species, including five found in Finland.
The most hazardous of these is giant hogweed, which is pushing out domestic plants and can also be harmful to humans. Experts say now is the best time of the year to weed out these invaders.
Plants on the EU black list should not be planted or imported, and should be eradicated whenever possible. The Commission is now requiring member states to take action within three years to prevent these species "from being kept, sold, transported, reproduced, or released".
Of the plants that have spread to Finland, giant hogweed is the most noxious, capable of causing severe skin inflammations if handled in direct sunlight. These can lead to scarring or even blindness. The outsized weed was originally brought to Europe to decorate British gardens in the 1800s.
This week employees of the municipality of Raseborg in south-west Finland are removing the gigantic plant. The town's environmental inspector, Jouni Stordell, points out that by law, the responsibility for getting rid of the invader lies with landowners, and that now is the best time to do so – before it scatters its seeds.
Stordell says it's not enough just to cut down the giant hogweed stalks, which can grow up to three metres high. He says these seed pods will be sent to a dump in Vantaa to be incinerated. Otherwise they can spread explosively, pushing out endemic native plants as they go.
Invasive species are a serious threat to Finland's natural biodiversity. They also cost the agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries 10 of millions of euros annually. Europe-wide, the EU estimates losses at 12 to 20 billion euros a year.