FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- A run-in with an invasive plant has landed a Virginia teen in a hospital with second- and third-degree burns. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports 17-year-old Alex Childress came across a large plant Tuesday while working a summer landscaping job, and it briefly brushed his face and arm as he cut it down.

It turned out to be giant hogweed, whose sap can cause burns, blisters and even blindness. The plants have been spotted across Virginia this summer. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation says they can grow up to 15 feet tall.

Childress was taken to a hospital later that night and transferred to a burn unit. He was discharged Thursday. He set up a fundraising page to help pay for medical costs.

(Source: GoFundMe)

"I am not one to ask for help," he writes on the GoFundme page. "I am always helping other people whenever and wherever I can, but now I am in need of help."

His father, Justin Childress, says his son appears to have a long recovery ahead of him.

Researchers warned about the risks of giant hogweed after it was recently spotted in Virginia for the first time. Warnings have been issued in previous years after discoveries in Michigan, New York and elsewhere in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

Dan Coleman, the invasive plant and agricultural pest coordinator for Alaska's Dept. of Natural Resources, says giant hogweed has only been documented at one site in Kake in Southeast. It was eradicated from that site. 

"Giant hogweed is easily confused with cow parsnip, which is a native plant in Alaska and occurs throughout the state," Coleman says. "The two plants have similar leaves and flowers, although, giant hogweed is going to much larger (10 to 15' tall) with leaf and flower shape/structure differences."

Sap on the plant's leaves, roots, flower heads, seeds and stem hairs can cause permanent blindness if it gets in a person's eyes. The sap can also cause blistering and scarring if it gets on bare skin.

Health officials say to wash skin if it comes in contact with the plant, immediately flush eyes with water, and promptly seek medical attention.

The plant can grow up to 18 feet tall, has a green stem with bristles and dark red or purple spots, and has a white flower.

It is most commonly found in New England, the Mid-Atlantic region and the Northwest, often growing along streams and rivers and in fields, forests, yards and roadsides, experts say.

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