Third-degree burns following contact with Giant Hogweed

July 24, 2018, 3:18 pm

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegassianum)


Keeping pace with the media; Giant Hogweed burns — a case series and comprehensive review. Baker BG et al. Burns 2017;43:933-938



Earlier this month, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that an incoming student preparing for his freshman year at Virginia Tech suffered third-degree burns to his face and arm after he came into contact with a Giant Hogweed plant (Heracleum mantegassianum).

“The top layer of skin on the left side of his face was basically gone and appeared to be like a really bad burn that had already peeled,” the victim’s brother told the paper. A photograph of the victim’s face is quite impressive. It can be seen by clicking here.

This recent article reviewed Giant Hogweed burns after a series of cases were reported in the United Kingdom. The authors note that although cases of phytophotodermatitis (plant-induced photosensitivity) usually appear in the dermatology literature, the resulting burns can be serious enough to require surgical intervention. They note that Giant Hogweed is a member of the family Apiaceae, which also encompasses carrots, celery and parsley. The plant can be as much as eleven-and-a-half feet tall.

Giant Hogweed contains furocoumarins including psoralen, a mutagen that, when activated by exposure to UV light, can cause serious burns by impairing DNA synthesis.

Important measures than can prevent this burns include avoiding contact with the plant, irrigating any plant product from the skin immediately after contact, and avoiding exposure to sunlight after contact. Additional measures include avoiding swimming after contact (moisture exacerbates skin damage) and using high SPF protective products.

Treatment involves use of topical steroids and analgesics for mild burns. More serious injury with blisters and peeling is treated as a similarly severe thermal burn with appropriate debridement and protective dressings.

Other plants reported to cause phytophotodermatitis include carrot, fig, celery, limes, dill, and parsnips. In 2010, Flugman reported a case of “Mexican beer dermatitis,” in which a patient developed skin lesions after being sprayed with a mixture of beer and lime while on holiday.

Coincidentally, the Associated Press reported last week that a Vermont woman suffered second-degree burns after brushing up against wild parsnip.

The following is a TV news report on the Virginia case from WNCN, the NBC station in Charlotte, NC:

One additional pro tip: Never, under any circumstances, mistake Giant Hogweed for Horny Goat Weed, a plant sometimes ingested as an aphrodisiac.