Giant hogweed warning: Virginia teen sustains burns

The hogweed plant can grow up to 14 feet or more has hollow ridged stems that grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. (Source Natural Resources Conservation Service

The hogweed plant can grow up to 14 feet or more has hollow ridged stems that grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. (Source Natural Resources Conservation Service

Alex Childress, 17, of Virginia, was working a landscaping job near Spotsylvania when he first felt the intense burns, which he originally brushed off as strong sunburn. Somehow this was relatively fortunate for Childress, as Giant Hogweed sap can cause much worse, including permanent blindness.

Also, consider removing the plant at night since, according to Metzgar, the chemicals in the sap that burn you are activated by sunlight.

DEA / C. SAPPA via Getty Images Giant hogweed in France.

With third degree burns on his face and arms, Childress became the first patient to be treated at the Virginia Commonwealth University medical center for an injury caused by the toxic giant hogweed plant, the hospital told WWBT. Childress was discharged from the hospital on Thursday.

"I got in the shower and my face started peeling".

Childress continued working through the pain and didn't realize the intensity of the burns until he returned home in the evening. Though he's set to recover, it could be a frustratingly long process. "My face could be sensitive to light for a year up to two years".

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the teenager was pulling the plant during a landscaping job when he touched his face, and then the sap began to burn him.

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The plant has large compound leaves that can grow up to 5 feet wide and white flower heads that can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter.

Dan Kraus, a biologist with the conservancy, said the invasive Asian species likely arrived in Canada in the 1940s and can now be found in areas of the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, and has been spreading in southern Ontario and southern B.C.

Jordan Metzgar, curator at the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, told the Times-Dispatch that giant hogweed have been spotted around Virginia, adding that the plant was not spreading like in NY and other Northern states. It is believed that "birds and waterways [carrying] seeds, which can grow up to 10 years once they're dropped off", were responsible for the spreading of the Giant Hogweed, according to CBS News. Once out of the ground, lay the plant pieces out to die, in the sun.

The Childress' hoped others can learn from their son's injuries to be on the lookout for this invasive plant. Canadians who spot giant hogweed should also contact local parks officials.

Health officials say to wash skin if it comes in contact with the plant, immediately flush eyes with water, and promptly seek medical attention.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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