The Giant Hogweed is a terrible, no-good, dangerous plant. It also happens to be spreading across the United States with shocking speed, and just touching can totally mess you up. A 17-year-old boy from Virginia named Alex Childress learned that in the absolute worst way possible, and now he’s dealing with severe burns and likely a lifetime of significant scarring.
Childress was reportedly doing a bit of summer gardening when he came across one of the large plants and promptly chopped it down, unknowingly getting some of the plant’s dangerous sap on one side of his face as well as his arm. Nothing happened at first — that’s what makes the plant so incredibly brutal — but that would change.
The sap of the Giant Hogweed doesn’t cause any direct damage to the skin. Instead, it causes what is called phototoxicity, making the skin much more sensitive to damage from UV light. The Sun puts out a whole lot of that, and if you allow sunlight to strike sap-soaked skin it can cause incredibly painful burns. You can mitigate the effects of the sap by thoroughly cleaning your skin immediately after coming into contact with the plant, but Childress had no reason to suspect that he was in any danger and just kept on working.
The effects came on a short while later, landing Childress in the hospital with excruciating burns on his face and arm. The plant’s effects don’t wear off quickly, and affected skin can remain sensitive for weeks, months, or even years after the fact.
“I was working at my summer landscaping job trying to make a little extra spending money before leaving for college at Virginia Tech, when I unknowingly cut down and carried a ‘giant hogweed’ plant,” Childress writes on a GoFundMe page that has been set up to help him cover some of his medical expenses. “I was transferred to the Burn ICU at VCU and treated for 3 days but still have daily wound care which requires debriding the burns to remove dead skin.”