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Poisonous Plants to Avoid in the Wild

by Bruce Haring

With summer on the horizon, outdoor activities like camping and hiking are some things to look forward to. A major, yet easily overlooked, predator out in the wild is poisonous plants though. When we think poisonous plants, the first one that comes to mind is always poison ivy. However, there are several other dangerous species that you need to avoid but poison ivy cannot be overlooked as well.

  1. Poison Ivy – Poison ivy mostly grows along the edges of forests, in meadows, trails, and forest openings. The leaves of this deadly plant are green and glossy, alternate and are composed of three leaflets where the middle leaflet has a much longer stalk. It commonly triggers inflammation of the skin or allergic contact dermatitis. It contains a strong antigen known as urushiol, which 60 to 80 percent of people are allergic to when exposed to it. The oily resin from poison ivy may be carried on anything that comes into contact with it such as shoes, clothing, or your pet’s fur which then gets transferred to the skin.
  2. Wild Parsnip – This is a plant that can put you on the hot seat! The leaves of this eye catching plant are shaped like mittens and are arranged alternately on the stem. They grow from 50 to 150 centimeters in height and the plants’ flowers are yellow. Wild parsnips have a characteristic parsnip aroma. Wild parsnips normally grow along roadsides, meadows, in old pastures, and along the edges of plantations or large farms. They contain organic chemical compounds called furocoumarins which destroy cells and skin tissue. This happens when the skin absorbs these compounds. The reaction appears in the form of blistering of the skin and redness.
  3. Giant Hogweed – Giant Hogweed has a reddish-purple stem which measures from five to ten centimeters in diameter and can grow up to a height of four to five meters. It usually flowers from June to September and these flowers are usually found in clusters. Each cluster contains about 20 to 30 flowers. This invasive plant usually grows along stream banks, trails, and roadsides. The flowers of this plant can severely burn, scar, and even blind you on mere contact. Like wild parsnips, the saps of giant hogweeds also contain furocoumarins which cause serious inflammation of the skin.
  4. Spotted Water Hemlock – The spotted water hemlock has flowers that are small in size and white in color. They are shaped like an inverted umbrella and usually bloom during the months of July and August. The water hemlock usually grows up to about 2.2 meters in height. Its leaves are alternate and coarsely-toothed and when the stem is cut, an oily liquid, yellow in color, seeps out. You can usually find this plant in marshes, swamps, ditches, stream banks, meadows, and moist thickets. It contains a toxic alcohol called cicutoxin which invades the central nervous system. Symptoms of poisoning make a quick appearance, and include violent seizures, extreme salivation, delirium, and intense abdominal pain. About 30 minutes to eight hours later, a coma, as well as respiratory failure can occur. Just a small mouthful can cause immediate death!
  5. Pokeweed – As pokeweed matures, its red, trunk-like stem becomes hollow. Its leaves are egg-shaped and can grow to as much as 25 centimeters in size. They are dark green in color, alternate and a red stalk attaches them to the stem and grows in openings in wooded areas. The pokeweed plant has flowers that appear green to white and the fruit which is green turns to deep purple and then finally to black as it matures. It usually grows on meadows, waste areas and along the edges of woods. This plant affects both humans and animals and some of the symptoms of poisoning include abdominal pains, weakness, sweating, vomiting, blurred vision, and unconsciousness.

When you are out in the wild, it is easy to look out just for predatory animals and overlook poisonous plants. They can appear beautiful and attractive to the eye, and so the need to have at least a basic knowledge of these plants and being able to identify them is important.

A bath or a shower is highly advised after a trip to the wild. If you come into contact with any of the poisonous plants mentioned above, it is imperative that you immediately wash your skin as well as your clothes. If blisters or rashes appear on your skin, unexpectedly, it is best that you consult a physician.

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