Girl, 5, left covered in blisters after touching toxic UK weed that can blind people


A mum has warned parents to be careful after her children were left with painful burns and blisters after coming into contact with a toxic plant.

Rebecca Barnes said a brush with giant hogweed’s poisonous sap left her two kids needing hospital treatment.

Son Reggie, seven, and daughter Roma, five, were rushed to Salisbury District Hospital for urgent treatment after touching the plant while playing.

If it had gone in their eyes, they would have been blinded for life.

A River Trust expert warned “It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most dangerous plant in Britain.”

Giant hogweed can tower at 23ft tall like a Triffid, and children are attracted to it because the hollow stems of the plant make ideal peashooters.

It produces a toxic sap which reacts with sunlight and burns the skin, causing permanent blisters and scars. It can also even lead to permanent blindness.

Rebecca said initially Roma had ‘mild’ redness and rash-like symptoms, but after a long day in the sun things got worse.

As the day wore on the blisters got bigger and bigger and bigger.

The sap removes the natural UV protection of the skin, so what Roma was actually suffering was burns from the sun.

Roma’s parents say the public should be made more aware.

Rebecca said “It’s not commonly warned about which I think it needs to be.

“On public footpaths there needs to be pictures of it because if the sap gets into your eyes it can cause permanent blindness.

Roma, who was the worst affected, will need bandages on her arms and legs for a lengthy time.

“For at least six months, but up to seven years sun protection won’t be enough.

“I’m just praying that the scarring isn’t left because it can obviously leave really bad scars.”

One expert, Guy Barter, from the Royal Horticultural Society, said giant hogweed’s risks are greater this year because the plant is flourishing.

“It likes damp soil, it likes riparian areas next to rivers and of course this winter we had an awful lot of rain – one of the wettest winters on record.

“Rivers were high, that picked up the seeds and fragments of plants and spread them out along water courses.”

It grows like a Triffid and can tower 23ft tall.

It was innocently shipped into the UK by well-meaning Victorian plant hunters in the 19th century.

Spitting out poisonous sap when touched, it has escaped from country mansion gardens and private collections and is spreading across the countryside.

A map published by Plant Trackers shows it now exists in most parts of the country and its progress seems unstoppable.

In Gloucestershire it’s already been seen sprouting this spring in rural areas including Painswick and Stonehouse.

Other ‘Triffids’ have been sighted near Ross-on-Wye on the Herefordshire border and the woods around Ullenwood.

Now labelled public enemy number one in the countryside, it’s a special threat to children.

Its stems are hollow, so they try to use the ‘tubes’ as pretend telescopes or peashooters.

There have been several cases in the past of youngsters screaming in pain from the agonising blisters which appear on their skin.

Parents are being warned to tell their children not to touch the plant whose leaves, stems, roots, flowers and seeds all contain the poisonous toxin.

In the summer of 2015 horticulturist Dean Simmons was left with life-changing injuries after brushing against one of the plants growing in Taunton, Somerset.

Its tentacle-like fronds touched his bare legs and he suffered agonising skin burns that doctors say would take months to heal.

Speaking at the time he said “I feel so stupid – because of my job, I had knowledge of this plant and was still caught out.

“I was out fishing and didn’t see it until it was too late – and a day later I was on morphine.”

The plant, which kills off rival native plants by growing so fast and big that it blots out their sunlight, loves to lurk along rivers and canals to ‘ambush’ families out for a walk.

Dean said in 2015 “The burns and pain are pure agony and I can’t walk. I would hate to see a child in my position. The pain is unreal.”

In September 2014, Keith Cooper, 50, was hospitalised by the plant’s toxic sap after he went to look at a ‘pretty plant’ that his wife Maria had seen in the undergrowth.

Keith, of Howdon, Tyne and Wear, did not realise they had stumbled across some giant hogweed and doctors warned he would not be able to expose his badly-burnt right leg to sunlight until the year 2022.

“We were walking the dog near the coast road when my wife stopped to admire a plant and she asked if we could have one for our garden” the father-of-two said at the time.

“The sap rubbed against me but I didn’t realise as it didn’t hurt. I just thought I had been bitten. It was only when I got home that my right leg flared up and it started blistering.

“They told me I can’t put my leg in the sun for the next seven years. If my leg goes into the sun it blisters again because the injury has taken all the skin’s natural UV protection away. I will have to go round with one sock on.”


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