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Pick Your Poisonous Plant

Jul 28, 2016, 11:49 AM
The sun is out, the weather is beautiful, and it’s the perfect time to be outside. Unfortunately, hot weather clothing leaves a lot of skin exposed—skin that can get burned by several kinds of plants; wild parsnip, poison ivy, stinging nettle, and wood nettle, to name a few. While total avoidance of all poisonous plants may not be realistic for your lifestyle, following the upcoming instructions may help reduce long-term effects of contact.

If you come into contact with a poisonous plant, you should wash the affected area immediately, using water and a grease fighting soap, such as dish detergent. Make sure not to rub your eyes until you’re sure that your hands are completely clean—poisonous plant oils are known to cause blindness.

Over-the-counter lotions, wet compresses, oatmeal baths, and antihistamines may help relieve itching. However, prevention is the best medicine. Despite the heat, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants when walking through ditches or the woods, as it can save you from a lot of pain caused by contact with poisonous plants. If you’re intent on wearing shorts, you should know how to identify each plant so that you can avoid it. Click here to see what poisonous plants in Iowa look like.

Wild parsnip has been in the news a lot lately, as it’s spreading rapidly across the country. The oil from the plant reacts with sunlight to form painful blisters that can cause scarring. If you’re still outside when you notice a reaction beginning, cover the exposed area to keep the reaction from worsening. From May to July, it sports yellow flowers that look a bit like a dill plant, and is one of the most common yellow flowers. Upon discovery, you should alert whoever owns the property, or remove it yourself, as it grows aggressively and could take over large stretches of land. However large the patch is, don’t mow it! Getting tiny bits of wild parsnip to the face is extremely painful and could potentially blind you. Instead, try wearing heavy protective clothing and weeding the plants out by hand.

 Non flowering:                                                May Through July:                            

nonfloweringmay through july

Poison ivy also poses a threat to your skin. While it may not cause a reaction the first time, most people react the second; even if it hasn’t bothered you before, use caution. People have allergic reactions to plant oils, which can burn or blister skin. How do you avoid it? Remember, “Leaflets three, let them be!” Poison ivy can be a freestanding small plant, or a vine growing on something else. In the late summer to the winter, it sports small white berries. Again, don’t mow the plant, and especially don’t burn it, as the smoke may burn your lungs and nasal passages. Wear heavy protective gear and get rid of it through good old-fashioned weeding.

The last two poisonous Iowa plants are cousins—stinging nettles and wood nettles. Like a tiny syringe, the plant hairs inject acid into your skin, causing a reaction. Less dangerous than wild parsnip or poison ivy, the reaction should clear up in just a few minutes. The leaves are green, arranged opposite each other, and hairy.

As with most ills, should you experience a severe reaction by showing signs of swelling; if the rash is located on the face or genitals; or if the reaction is affecting your breathing, seek medical attention. Our emergency department is open 24/7.


Written by Anya Silva, GRMC summer intern