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Teen Hospitalized with Painful Burns After Encounter with Dangerous Hogweed Plant

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We’ve come a long way from interacting with nature like we used to. Of course, at one point there really was no choice — but now, swaddled in our comfortable homes with air conditioning and iPhones, we don’t really have to deal with wild terrors very much.

The most “nature” people see now is chasing a bird or bat out of the house when it somehow finds a way in.

But if you were outside in the woods, on your own, how lost would you be? Would you be able to identify common animals and plants?

Many people can’t. And that’s part of what’s leading to a major problem in Virginia.

Giant Hogweed. Ever heard of it? More importantly, would you know it if you saw it?

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The plant grows very tall and its flowers resemble the flowers of carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace, hemlock, and bolted parsley plants. But unlike edible carrots and parsley, this noxious weed causes serious burns on contact.

Alex Childress, a 17-year-old who works as a landscaper in Virginia, had a literal run-in with the plant that he won’t soon forget.



He couldn’t identify the plant, so he chopped it down like he would any other overgrown weed while he was on the job. He didn’t really think about the fact that it had touched him. He was a landscaper. That just happens.

But later, at home, he noticed that his skin was starting to slough off.

“I thought I had a bad sunburn,” Childress said. “I got in the shower and my face started peeling. My mom said I had third-degree burns on my face and arms.”

At the VCU burn unit, where he ended up, the nurses quickly went to work on him.

“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,” he added. “Then they cleaned everything else.”

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The sap of the plant, if washed off quickly, will cause minor damage — but it reacts when exposed to light, so the longer it stays in contact with skin and light, the more it burns.

Because of that, Childress has had to stay in a darkened room. As soon as the lights are turned on, the burning returns. Thankfully, none of the sap got in his eyes. If it had, he would be blind.

The plant is known to be in several U.S. states — Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia and North Carolina — as well as Canada.

If you see anything that looks like Giant Hogweed, stay far away from it. If it’s on your property, wear protective gear and destroy it before it goes to seed and continues the cycle.

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