Giant Hogweed Burned the Heck Out of Americans This Year

An enormous ornamental plant seared the flesh of its victims.

Most green leaves can be thought of as soft, cool, and even soothing to the touch. But there are some big exceptions, and giant hogweed is one of them. This huge relative of the carrot grows wild in at least ten states across America, and at 14 feet tall, with deceptively pretty white flowers, it can be very imposing. But as many victims learned this year, it’s far more than just a big weed: Touching its sap can result in third-degree burns.

As Inverse reported in July, a Virginia teen got a first-hand lesson in giant hogweed’s destructive capabilities when he brushed up against a plant during a landscaping job. As CBS reported, 17-year-old Alex Childress ended up in the emergency department at Virginia Commonwealth Hospital, where doctors treated him for the first hogweed-related injury they’d ever seen there.

This is #13 on Inverse’s list of the 25 Most WTF stories of 2018.

Giant hogweed’s potent burns are due to furocoumarins, the toxic compounds in its sap. When these molecules are activated by UV rays, like those in sunlight, they bind to DNA, killing the cells. When Childress got the sap on his skin and continued working in the July sun, the furocoumarins activated and his flesh burned.

“[Furocoumarins are] just there to deter herbivores, or, if you want to think of it more dramatically, to punish animals for eating them,” Virginia Tech biologist Jordan Metzgar, Ph.D., told Inverse in June.

Similar cases led New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to launch special emergency reporting lines specifically geared toward giant hogweed, since it’s so dangerous. Needless to say, if you think you see it, don’t bother collecting a sample. Call your local hotline and keep your distance.

As 2018 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down the 25 stories that made us go WTF. Some are gross, some are amazing, and some are just, well, WTF. In our ranking from least to most WTF, this has been #13. Read the original article here.

Watch the full 25 WTF countdown in the video below.