A Virginia teen is recovering from third-degree burn injuries he developed after coming in contact with a Giant Hogweed plant while working a landscaping job.
Alex Childress, 17, of Spotsylvania, was clearing vegetation on the job July 12 when he thought he was feeling the effects of a sunburn on his face. He continued working throughout the day, not realizing the actual danger he was in, Newsweek reports.
When he returned home, he took a shower and found the skin on his face and arm was peeling away, much like it would after a severe sunburn. His mother, a nurse at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, recognized her son’s injuries were serious burn injuries that required immediate medical attention.
Later it was determined that Alex had cut back a giant hogweed plant, an extremely toxic invasive plant with sap that causes the skin to blister and burn and blindness if it gets into the eye.
Giant hogweed is native to the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas in Russia. The plant grows up to 14 feet tall with thick green leaves measuring up to five feet wide and clusters of white flowers similar in appearance to Queen Anne’s Lace or Cow’s Parsnip. There is nothing in the weed’s appearance that warns of its toxicity.
Giant hogweed can be distinguished from similar plants by the purple blotches and white hairs on its thick stems.
The toxic plant is known to grow in Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington. Just last month, Virginia public health officials warned that that plant had been spotted for the first time in Virginia.
According to CBS News, giant hogweed sap contains photosensitizing furanocoumarins – toxic chemicals that cause skin to become extremely sensitive to light. Anyone who gets the sap from a giant hogweed plant on them should immediately wash the affected areas with cold water and soap, avoid sunlight, and seek medical attention.
Botanists aren’t certain how giant hogweed spread to North America. According to Newsweek, the plant is thought to have spread around the world by collectors working for botanical gardens. CBS News notes that the plant’s seeds may have spread by migrating birds and water currents in the early 20th century.
Alex Childress was released from the intensive care unit on Thursday but he has a long recovery ahead of him. He fears his Virginia Tech ROTC scholarship could be in jeopardy because of his burn injuries, according to his GoFundMe page.