Mother reveals toxic giant hogweed left her baby with severe burns

Mother issues warning over toxic giant hogweed plant after her three-month-old daughter suffered severe burns on her face when her sister, 8, put the ‘pretty flower’ in her pram

  • Claire Hardwick, 29, told how three-month-old Lottie developed painful blisters
  • Mother-of-five from Lancaster thought red welts were sunburn and went to A&E
  • Lottie transferred to specialist burns unit at children’s hospital 60 miles away
  • Doctors are unable to say whether Lottie will suffer any permanent scarring
  • Giant hogweed dubbed UK’s most dangerous plant due to toxic chemicals in sap

A mother has issued a grave warning about giant hogweed after her baby daughter suffered severe burns on her face after coming into contact with the toxic plant.

Horrified Claire Hardwick, 29, from Lancaster, told how three-month-old Lottie had to be rushed to hospital after her older sister Lexi, eight, placed it in her pram thinking it was ‘pretty flowers’ on May 16.

Within 24 hours, the tot was covered in ‘red raw’ welts across her face, which her parents initially thought was sunburn.

They rushed Lottie to A&E, where she spent a night before being transferred to a specialist burns unit at a children’s hospital nearly 60 miles away. 


Three-month-old Lottie (pictured) had to be rushed to hospital with burns on her face after her older sister Lexi, eight, placed giant hogweed in her pram thinking it was ‘pretty flowers’

Horrified mother-of-five Claire Hardwick, 29, from Lancaster, pictured with her daughters Leighanne, 10, and Lexi, eight, son Logan, five, and husband Michael, had no idea about the dangers of the toxic plant

Now mother-of-five Claire is now speaking out to raise awareness of the dangers of the seemingly innocuous plant, which causes reactions when it comes into contact with human skin because its sap is full of toxic chemicals.

She said: ‘This plant looks so pretty, but it is lethal. Please, do not let your kids pick it.

‘I did not have a clue a plant could do that to your skin, and such a nice-looking plant as well – who would have thought it could be so dangerous?

‘I felt so guilty when I realised what had caused Lottie’s burns – it’s every mum’s worst nightmare.

‘Lexi is old enough to understand and feels awful too, because she knows she put the flowers there.’

Claire is now speaking out to raise awareness of the dangers of the seemingly innocuous plant, which causes reactions when it comes into contact with human skin because its sap is full of toxic chemicals. Pictured: Lottie’s burns

Giant hogweed sap contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitising furanocoumarins, which react with light when in contact with human skin, causing blistering within 48 hours

Stay-at-home mother Claire and husband Michael, 31, a cleaner, were walking down a cycle path with their children to visit the grave of their daughter Layla, who was stillborn last year, when Lexi picked the hogweed, which has distinctive white flowers, to lay next to the plaque.

The eight-year-old placed the flowers at the feet of Lottie’s car seat buggy chair – but the tot must have touched them with her hand and then rubbed her face.

By 7pm – four hours after the family got home from their walk – Lottie’s face had begun to redden and by 6.30am the next morning, large blisters had formed on her cheeks.

The concerned couple rushed their youngest child to A&E at Lancaster Infirmary, where doctors popped and wiped the blisters, initially believing them to be severe sunburn.

Lottie spent a night on a children’s ward before being sent to a burns unit at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital the next day for further treatment

Nurses then realised giant hogweed was the cause of the burns after telling Claire to Google the plant and see whether that was what Lexi had picked.

Lottie spent a night on a children’s ward before being sent to a burns unit at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital the next day for further treatment.

Claire said: ‘We lost our daughter a year ago, so we were going to visit her and Lexi picked some flowers to take to the grave.

‘She placed them at the side of Lottie in the car seat, near her legs, but we think she put her hand on it and rubbed her face.

Doctors have not yet been able to tell Claire and Michael whether Lottie will suffer any permanent scarring as a result of her injuries

‘By the time we got home her face was getting redder and redder. I thought it must be sunburn and felt so guilty, but it wasn’t sunny at all.

‘By the next morning the blisters were red raw and her eyes were so puffy she couldn’t open them – her eyelids were three times the size they normally are.

‘We were terrified – we had no idea what was wrong.’ 

Giant hogweed – the UK’s ‘most dangerous’ plant 

Giant hogweed sap contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitising furanocoumarins, which react with light when in contact with human skin, causing blistering within 48 hours.

Effectively the toxic sap prevents the skin from protecting itself from sunlight, which can lead to very bad sunburn and scarring.

If accidentally rubbed in the eyes, the sap can cause temporary or even permanent blindness.

Anyone who comes in contact with the weed is advised to cover up the affected area, to prevent the sap reacting with sunlight, and to wash it with soap and water. 

Giant hogweed causes such horrific burns because the plant’s sap contains chemicals which react with light while in contact with the skin.

Blisters usually form within 48 hours and in severe cases it can cause permanent scarring and even blindness.

Doctors have not yet been able to tell Claire and Michael whether Lottie will suffer any permanent scarring as a result of her injuries.

Claire said: ‘Hopefully Lottie won’t be scarred for life but the doctors aren’t certain yet.

‘They think the reaction was so much worse because she’s so young, so her skin is still very delicate.

‘I want to raise awareness, because no one knows how dangerous this plant can be.’ 

Natalie Brown, who runs first aid course provider Mini First Aid Warrington, shared Claire’s story to help raise awareness of the dangers giant hogweed can pose.

She said: ‘There is growing concern about the amount of giant hogweed when out and about.

‘We want to equip parents with the knowledge to prevent an accident, and help them know what to do should an accident occur. We’re delighted to hear Lottie is doing well.’   

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