Into The Outdoors - The “Big Three” Poisonous Plants


For openers, here’s some info from the PFBC. In late May, a fifty-six pound four ounce monster was taken in the eastern part of the state, in the Schuylkill River. It broke the previous state record for flathead catfish. I have never caught anything like that, but I hope I do someday.

Sometimes, I wonder if I place too much emphasis on the dangers of the outdoors.  While they should not interfere with our enjoyment, they do need mentioning.  A lot of dangers are obvious to everyone, some are rather easy to overlook.  They will be the focus of this week’s column.

Among the worst are the poisonous plants. The “Big Three” are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. They are all related, and they are all found in Pennsylvania. They contain a substance called urushiol, an oleoresin, whatever that is. It can lead to severe, watery skin outbreaks. The substance is contained in the leaves, stems and roots, so any contact is dangerous. They are also dangerous all year round, although they seem to be more potent when the leaves are green.

Personally, I fear these plants more than anything else in the outdoors. Sometimes, I think I could contract the rash by touching a picture of the plants. While such things as bears and snakes can be dangerous, your chances of being harmed by these plants are much greater, as they are really common, and can invade almost anywhere. Around here, poison ivy is probably the most common of this evil trio.  While it can appear as either a bush or a vine, it can always be recognized by its leaflets, which appear in groups of three. There are numerous other plants which resemble it, perhaps the most common being the young box elder tree. There’s an old saying that goes “Leaflets three, let it be.” It’s pretty good advice.  When in doubt, don’t touch. While some folks, like me, are more sensitive than others, nobody is totally immune. You might get away with touching the plant many times, only to contract the rash when you least expect it. I can name several cases of people who thought they didn’t get it, only to come down with a case.  You can even be affected by residue left on pets which have romped through the stuff.  I once had a slight case that I could only trace to one of our outside cats. Apparently, she had been in the stuff right before being petted by yours truly.  

What should you do if you suddenly find yourself in a patch of these poisonous plants? The key lies in getting the urushiol off your skin as quickly and as thoroughly as you can.  There are soaps on the market which are made especially for this purpose. In my own case, I scrub thoroughly with Fels-Naptha bar soap. So far, it’s done the trick for me. I’ve also heard that the blue form of Dawn dish liquid will also work. The best thing, however, is to avoid contact altogether.

By now  you are probably thinking that I’m making too big a deal over a rash. I’m not. My dad once missed eight weeks of work with a case of poison ivy. His legs were a weeping, oozing mess, and it took many trips to the doctor for him to get rid of the problem. These are just plain nasty plants. Leave them alone.


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