A WELDER was left unable to walk and had blisters the size of golf balls after mere seconds of exposure to "Britain's most dangerous plant".
Nick Sherratt, 53, said the dreaded giant hogweed had his leg in such agony that "if somebody came with a hacksaw, I would have gladly said please take it off".
The fabricator encountered the plant near Porthjoke Beach, Cornwall, after slipping off a footpath leading down to the sands.
"I felt nothing," he said.
"It was a Saturday afternoon when it happened; Saturday evening we nipped out to get my son from where he works and we came back, had a meal – no problem, nothing at all.
"But then it was a totally different story on Sunday.
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"First thing in the morning, I started violently vomiting, I got a fever, terrible shivering, I couldn't get warm, I was wrapped up in bed – it was just non-stop."
Then came the rash – a huge red mark with a black spot at its centre where the hogweed had touched him.
He said: "After that, it was absolutely excruciating pain in my calf muscle; my skin was literally feeling like it was on fire.
"If somebody came with a hacksaw, I would have gladly said please take it off.
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"It was so, so painful.
"In one of the photographs the blister is like the size of a golf ball – that one was absolutely horrendous; very, very painful."
The agony grew so intense that soon walking – even standing – became a challenge.
Even now, after missing more than two weeks at work, he is still feeling the effects.
"I have been housebound basically," said Nick.
"The best I could do was get myself to the toilet or the bathroom, I've spent a lot of time in bed, a lot of time sleeping.
If somebody came with a hacksaw, I would have gladly said please take it off.
"I can't stand even now for very long.
"Walking is getting a little easier."
What makes the hogweed so dangerous is its sap, which stops the skin from protecting itself against the sun's rays, leading to gruesome burns when exposed to natural light.
And the fact that it causes no immediate pain only makes things worse – because many victims will continue to burn in the sunshine heedless of any problem.
On top of that, it only takes a moment's exposure before the damage is done.
Mr Sherratt estimates he would've been in contact with the plant for mere seconds.
He said: "It's a very narrow path, it's quite overgrown and there are not many places to pass when people are coming the opposite way.
"So we sort of stuck to one side, and as we did I slid off the top of the path, and as I did I ended up in this vegetation.
"It was only maybe 30 seconds or so."
Nick's GP, who identified giant hogweed as the culprit, has prescribed a course of powerful antibiotics and painkillers to help him manage on the road to recovery.
But the scars left by the vicious plant can last for months or even years, and long-term sensitivity to sunlight is possible.
Mr Sherratt, from Cubert, Cornwall, has been told he'll just have to wait to see how things go.
In the meantime, he's speaking up to warn others to beware when enjoying the Great British outdoors.
"Be so aware of this thing," he said.
"Especially when you're near a water source – that's where giant hogweed seems to congregate more: rivers, brooks, that sort of thing.
"It looks all very innocent with a pretty white flower on top, but it's not – believe me.
"You've just to look out for them. I'd never been aware of it; it just happened.
"Unfortunately I found out the hard way."
The giant hogweed is native to the Caucasus, but was introduced to Britain as an ornamental plant in 1817, and its spread has now got out of control.
Mike Duddy, of the Mersey Basin Rivers Trust, said in 2015 that the giant hogweed was "without a shadow of a doubt, the most dangerous plant in Britain".
If exposed to the plant, you should thoroughly wash the area that made contact and keep it out of sunlight for a few days, the Woodland Trust advises.
The National Trust, which maintains the Porthjoke beach car park, believes even a regular hogweed could be to blame.
"The sap of this species can also cause burning if it gets on your skin,"
it said in a statement.
"We've since had the path in question cut back by contractors who reported seeing common hogweed, but no giant hogweed.
"Our ranger teams will continue to check the area for signs of giant hogweed."
What is giant hogweed and what does it look like?
Giant hogweed – Heracleum mantegazzianum – is an infamously dangerous plant which you will probably come across if you walk besides rivers and streams or near a fresh water source.
The plant is particularly worrisome as you don't have to break it or rub the sap into your skin for its painful effects to take hold – just an unlucky brush with its leaves or stem is all it takes.
Giant hogweed stems have fine needle like hairs that will cause extreme irritation.
Toxins in the sap bind with DNA in skin cells, causing them to die and form huge burns and blisters.
Hogweed can tower up to 25ft tall, with long green stems with purple blotches, huge branches of small white flowers and green leaves.
It is a close relative of cow parsley and the plant’s flower heads can reach 2ft across.
The hot weather amid the coronavirus lockdown along with flooding earlier in the year sparked an explosion in giant hogweed across Britain.
Dozens of sightings of the poisonous plant have been recorded across the UK, according to PlantTracker.
It has been spotted in both the countryside and in cities such as London and Manchester.
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