As we reported previously, giant hogweed, a toxic plant that can cause severe injury to anyone who touches it was spotted in several locations in Virginia. Unfortunately, one specimen has done just that — severely burned someone, specifically, a young landscape worker. According to WWBT-TV Richmond, 17-year-old Alex Childress of Spotsylvania had been working at his summer landscaping job when the incident happened.
“We were working outside a factory and I snipped down a bush and it fell and touched my face,” Childress says. “I didn’t pay any mind to it because I do it all the time.” He was unaware of the hogweed plant and its dangers until he came home that night and spoke with his parents.
“I thought I had a bad sunburn,” he says. “I got in the shower and my face started peeling. My mom said I had third degree burns on my face and arms.” He was taken to Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center and later transported to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s Evans-Haynes Burn Center in Richmond.
“They had me go in the shower for an hour and a half to wash and cleanse my body to get my pH level down,” Childress says. “Then they cleaned everything else. I did have the sap on me, but if you wash it away quickly it’s more like poison ivy. The longer it sits in the sun, the more potent and toxic it gets.”
The dangerous plant can not only cause significant burns but permanent blindness should its clear, watery sap get in someone’s eyes.
He's since been released from the hospital, but while the burns on his face and arms were healing, his hospital room had be kept dark. Both sunlight and indoor artificial light would have irritated his burns further.
“I’m feeling better,” he says. “There are certain aspects that are painful, like when they clean off dead skin or blisters, that’s sore. Standing in the shower and having the water run over an open wound kind of hurts.”
Childress’ doctors told his family that he shouldn’t come out of this too badly scarred, but that isn’t his main concern right now. He’s more worried about not being able to attend Virginia Tech this fall on his ROTC scholarship.
“I know my skin will be sensitive to light for a few months,” Childress says. “I’m hoping that scholarship will still be available for me.”
Giant hogweed is classified as a Tier 1 noxious weed, and though its crown of white flowers makes it look a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, this plant can grow up to 15 feet tall. If you think you’ve spotted giant hogweed while working on someone’s property, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) wants you to take photos of the plant and submit a report. The agency wants to eradicate the plant before it becomes fully established in the state.
But Virginia is not the only state where the weed has been spotted. New York is also battling an infestation of the invasive plant.
"Do not mow, cut or weed-whack the plant, as it will just send up new growth and put you at risk for being exposed to sap,” New York State officials caution. “If you get sap on your clothes, carefully remove the clothing to avoid skin and eye contact and wash separately from other clothing with warm water and detergent."
And a final warning from Childress: “Don’t go anywhere near it.”