Don't Let These Poisonous Plants Ruin Your Summer

Summer means it’s time to get back in nature! But that can come with some side effects, particularly poisonous plants. Moms are already on high alert and keeping their kids away from poison ivy, but it isn’t the only one to worry about, even though the shiny three-leafed plant is found in pretty much every state in the U.S. Read on for six other common ones, including what each plant looks like and why you should worry:

Poison Oak

What it is: This flowering plant can be appear as a bushy shrub or climbing vine. Poison oak tends to have yellow or green flowers and berries that are either green or white.

Why worry: It’s actually the oil, called urushiol, that’s found in the plant’s roots, stem, leaves, flowers and berries, that is most problematic. Exposure to this oil may prompt skin irritation, a red rash, bumps and blisters. In addition, 85 percent of the U.S. population is allergic to urushiol, which can then lead to an even more intense reaction. “I always tell people to immediately wash whatever you were wearing when you were exposed to these sorts of plants since the oil can penetrate through clothing,” says Aisha Sethi, MD, a dermatologist at Yale New Haven Hospital. “Hose down all the equipment you were using, too.”

Poison Sumac

What it is: This woody plant is most common in the East Coast of the U.S. and usually grows as a shrub or tree. Expect to see pairs of leaves and berries that may be shiny, yellow or cream-colored.
Why worry: If you’re exposed to poison sumac, you will experience an irritating rash. You may not see any rash or blisters until 48 hours after you’ve been exposed to the plant. That’s why it’s all the more important to thoroughly wash anything that might have come into contact with the plant. “If your child is playing soccer and you see the ball roll into bushes that might have any of these poisonous plants, hose it down immediately,” Dr. Sethi says.

Stinging Nettle

What it is: This plant, found in most parts of the U.S., is notable for its greenish-white flowers and jaggedy leaves that are topped with stinging hairs.

Why worry: If you happen to touch the stinging hairs on this plant, you will feel an instantly painful, burning sensation and, possibly, the formation of hives on the skin. “The reaction that occurs when you even just slightly brush up against the plant can be quite painful,” Dr. Sethi says.

Giant Hogweed

What it is: This weed, which can reach up to 14 feet tall, has white flowers at the top that form an umbrella shape and thick broad leaves at the bottom, which contains sap that can lead to very severe skin reactions.
Why worry: The sap from this plant is poisonous. “It can cause skin reactions that are quite serious,” says Brad Leahy, owner of Blades of Green, a lawn care company in Harwood, Maryland. “As the sap penetrates the skin, it breaks down skin cell DNA and uses the sun to expedite this process. The blisters can be extremely painful and can leave scars that can last for years.”

Spotted spurge

What it is: This lawn weed can be found in gardens all over North America and is noted for its stems, flowers, fruits and hairy leaves. “Spotted spurge grows close to the ground, usually forming a dense mat-like shape and has dark green leaves which grow in pairs,” says Gena Lorainne, a gardening and plants expert at Fantastic Services, a British gardening company.

Why worry:  Unlike most other weeds, this one releases a milky, poisonous sap when its stems are broken. “This secretion can cause mild eye and skin irritation when it makes contact with the skin,” Lorainne says. “If you get some of this sap on your skin, wash it thoroughly and visit your healthcare provider to make sure you’ve removed it all.”

Water Hemlock

What it is: This common perennial happens to be one of North America’s most poisonous plants. “It grows in marshy, swampy areas, rivers and wet meadows and it can be hard to identify this plant as it resembles some safe edible plants such as artichokes, sweet potatoes and celery,” Lorainne says. “Still, whenever you’re camping close to damp areas, be on the lookout for perennials whose flowers are white and green and clustered in an umbrella shape. You can also identify this plant by its reddish-purple colored stems and the whitish film that covers the stems.”

Why worry: Symptoms of water hemlock poisoning include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tremors and abdominal pain. If not treated immediately it can even lead to death in just a matter of around 15 minutes. “Most documented cases of hemlock caused deaths include the plant being digested,” Lorainne says. “However, deadly intoxication can also occur following skin contact.”

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