Poisonous Plants: What They Are and How to Care for Allergic Reactions

Whether you are a scout, a nature enthusiast, or an outdoor aficionado, the ubiquitous adage “Leaves of three, let them be” is always a present and clear reminder to be aware of your surroundings and keep a healthy distance from the devilish, itch inducing plant: poison ivy. However, while charming, this simple rhyme grossly underestimates the amount of poisonous plants lurking in Pennsylvania’s forests, green spaces, and even suburban backyards. Luckily, below is a compiled list of common poisonous plants (in the Western Pennsylvania region) that is sure to greatly expand wilderness knowledge and safety, as well as help to alleviate the impending doom of an unwelcome rash.

Giant Hogweed

This devilish plant looks about as pleasant as it sounds. With substantial, bright green stalks, white flower-heads and leaves marked with deep red spots, this poisonous plant harbors deeply toxic sap that causes Phytophotodermatitis. Such a reaction is marked by severe burn-like blisters that spread from the initial affected area to the entire body. If contact is made with Giant Hogweed, it is imperative that the affected area is thoroughly scrubbed with soap and water. If blisters start to appear, contact your doctor immediately and seek medical attention.

Poison Ivy

This common plant has practically become the poster child for summertime rashes, with its easily identifiable “leaves of three”. Because this poisonous plant is rampant in Western Pennsylvania, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and shower after hiking, gardening, or spending extensive time outdoors. After coming into contact with the plant, be sure to wash the affected areas with soapy water, and apply over the counter medications (i.e. calamine lotion). Monitor the area and ensure that the rash does not spread. If the rash continues to worsen, seek out medical attention.

Poison Oak

Similar to Poison Ivy, this plant releases oil (urushiol) that causes an itchy rash and blisters. In terms of identification, Poison Oak is known for its leafy, shrub-like appearance with leaves that typically have 3 separate leaflets. In the spring and summer, the plant is able to produce small white, yellow or even green flowers. When treating a Poison on Oak rash, like other rashes, be sure to wash the affected area with soap and water. At home treatment also consists of applying calamine lotion and washing the area regularly.

Virginia Creeper

This devious plant grows quickly in long, continuous vines that choke trees of vital nutrients and cause a less than desirable rash on the skin. Unlike other poisonous plants, this vine only causes an allergic reaction if the vine, leaves or berries are crushed which releases toxic liquids and irritates the skin.

Wild Parsnip

As an invasive species, Wild Parsnip has made itself at home in many parts of the US, Pennsylvania included. With its thick stalks that house hundreds of umbrellate, or yellow flowers, this poisonous plant causes horrible burns that result in pus-filled and painful blisters that can result in lasting scars. Because of its high toxicity, it is imperative that this plant not be disturbed and immediate medical attention is sought if contact is made with the plant.

Overall, whether it is the risk of a rash from a poisonous plant or the exhaustion from a day out in the sun, it is always important to shower or at a minimum, wash exposed skin with soap and water. Not only will this greatly reduce the risk of an allergic reaction, but the risk of spreading it to other surfaces, clothing and (most importantly) people. Additionally, it is important to remember to be especially careful when weed whacking. This can cause the oils and saps to spread everywhere. Burning these plants can cause anyone around to breath in the fumes of the oil and infect the lungs. Almost surely ending in a visit to the hospital and even intensive care.

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