A teen in Virginia suffered severe burns after a run-in with giant hogweed – and experts say that the invasive and dangerous plant is also growing in Wisconsin. Alex Childress, the teen burned by the plant, was landscaping in southern Virginia when part of a giant hogweed plant brushed up against his arm and face.
What is Giant Hogweed?
Giant hogweed is an invasive plant with sap that basically stops your skin from protecting itself against sunlight. If it gets into your eyes, it can cause permanent blindness. Effects can kick in just 15 minutes after exposure.
What Happened to Alex Childress?
Childress thought he had just suffered a sunburn, and he told his parents as much when he got done working.
His parents knew better.
“The top layer of skin on the left side of his face basically was gone,” said Jason Childress, Alex’s father. “[It] appeared to be like a really bad burn that had already peeled.”
What really happened was that Alex had developed second- and third-degree burns from the sap.
Now, Alex can’t go in the sun for severe=al months, and his face could be light-sensitive for up to two years.
How to Identify Giant Hogweed
Giant hogweed is often mistaken for the harmless Queen Anne’s Lace plant, but it can grow from 6 to 20 feet tall. The plant has hollow, ridged stems covered in coarse, white hairs and white flowers on the top. You’ll commonly see it on roadsides, in empty lots and around the edge of the woods. It grows best in moist areas with some shade, like along riverbanks.
What to Do if You Encounter Giant Hogweed
If you run into a giant hogweed plant – or anything that looks like one – leave it alone. Don’t try to cut it down or remove it.
If you do get sap on your skin, wash it immediately with soap and cold water. If it’s in your eyes, use only cold water. Keep the affected areas away from sunlight for at least 48 hours, and go to the doctor immediately if you have any reaction at all.
Have You Seen Giant Hogweed?
There have been several reports of giant hogweed growing in southeastern Wisconsin. Have you seen it? (If you have, the DNR wants you to report it.) Do you know anyone who’s come into contact with its sap? I’d love to hear your story, so please share it on my Facebook page or on Twitter.