Poisonous Plants

Poisonous Plants

Poisonous plants can put a big damper on camping fun. But by knowing how to identify the plants and treat any exposures, you can help minimize their impact on your next adventure into the woods.

Poisonous plants work by direct exposure to the skin. The oils of the plants are absorbed into the skin causing a reaction that produces an itchy rash and weeping sores. Severe cases around the face can interfere with breathing and should be addressed by a medical professional.

The most common poisonous plants are listed below with a picture so that you can educate you and your campers to avoid them.


Poison IvyPoison Ivy

Poison Ivy is commonly found in the eastern United States.  It grows on a woody vine and has oval leaflets typically grouped in groups of three.  The plant sap of poison ivy contains a chemical called Urushiol.  It’s this chemical that causes the allergic dermatitis that last for many weeks.


Poison OakPoison Oak

Poison oak is a woody shrub that is related to poison ivy and poison sumac. It’s oily leaves are also in groups of three and can be green, yellow, or a reddish color in the fall. And like Poison Ivy, Poison Oak leaves and stems contain the oil, Urushiol that causes an itchy rash in 85% of the population.


Poison SumacPoison Sumac

Poison Sumac is a small tree or large shrub with large attractive leaves and ornamental white pea-sized fruits. If it wasn’t for its oily Urushiol, it would be a nice looking landscape shrub! Poison Sumac has a red stem that contain 9-13 leaves per branch. The small fruits that it bears are green and ripen into a white color. In the Fall, the Poison Sumac leaves will turn from a brilliant yellow in a purple color. Because of it’s size and red stems, it’s easier to spot (and avoid!) than it’s other Urishiol cousins of Poison Ivy & Poison Oak.

If you’ve been exposed to one of the plants above, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. The soap is a surfactant and will break up the oil before it’s absorbed into your skin. If you catch it soon enough, you may be able to prevent or reduce the severity of the allergic reaction.
  2. If a rash of weeping sores has already begun to develop, treat the area with either a paste of baking soda & water or a Calamine lotion. You can also use an antihistamine lotion like Benadryl to help dry up the sores.
  3. If the case gets worse, affects large areas, or is on the face, contact your doctor. It may be necessary to use inflammatory medications like corticosteroids to reduce the pain and discomfort.

It’s fun to venture of the trail and run through the woods. By knowing how to avoid poisonous plants and treat their symptoms, you can help reduce the fear of the unknown for you and your campers.