Poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak – these three plants can be a real pain for home owners. They are invasive, they are hard to remove, and they create terrible rashes and reactions, sometimes even potentially fatal, in those who come in contact with them.
Identifying the Plant
There are three different types of poison plants found throughout the United States.
Poison Ivy – The classic line “Leaves of three, leave it be” applies to this annoying plant. Found clear across the 48 conjoined states, the leaves are green in the summer, and will be red in the spring and fall. They can grow as bushes by themselves, or up the sides of trees and fences.
- Poison Oak – Not a full-blown oak tree, it is a smaller shrub that is found primarily in the eastern and southern states. It also has sets of three leaves, but they will be green and fuzzy. The poison oak produces yellow and green flowers, along with greenish-yellow and white berries in clusters.
- Poison Sumac – The rarest of the three, generally only found in eastern states, it also is unique in that it has pairs of leaves, not the sets of three found on the other poison plants. It is a woody shrub, and is found primarily in the wetlands areas, and around water. It has berries similar to the oak, but they hang loose instead of close to the plant.
Dealing with an Infestation
If any of these plants are spotted, caution should be taken when dealing with them. The rash-causing oil, urushiol, is found in all of the elements of the plant, not just in the leaves as was long suspected. The berries, leave, stems – even the roots of the plants can secrete the oil. They need to be pulled out at the root, and thrown away.
There are a few things not to do when you remove poison ivy, oak, or sumac. First of all, don’t throw it in the compost pile, or you’ll end up spreading it throughout the garden. This should be common sense, but folks still forget it. Secondly, don’t leave it lying around. Anyone could pick it up or fail to identify it properly when handling it. Most importantly, don’ burn it – this puts the urushiol oil into the air, and can lead to a whole-body reaction.
Whatever you use that comes in contact with the poison plant you remove, make sure to wash it thoroughly before handling it with bare hands. The oil can remain on clothing, tools, and anything else that it comes in contact with for days, even weeks.
Coping with a Rash
If you know you have come in contact with poison oak, ivy, or sumac, you’re not necessarily going to be hit with the rash. If you treat the area immediately using rubbing alcohol or washing with dishwashing detergent, you may be able to get rid of the urushiol oil before it has a chance to cause the rash. Even if you can’t avoid it completely, this will at least lessen the severity of the rash.
Once you’ve got the rash, the tried-and-true treatment methods of calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, antihistamine pills, and cool compresses are the ways to go. Don’t worry about spreading it to others – the watery fluid found in the blisters will not spread it, only contact with the urushiol oil will do that. It might seem like it spreads, but that’s just a delayed reaction in some areas.
So don’t worry too much if you start to see these weeds cropping up around your place, just know how to recognize and remove them, and how to deal with the possibility of a rash.