How to Avoid Poisonous Plants

It's summer!!  To celebrate I went on hike with a friend thru Muir Woods.  If you are not familiar with this national monument, it is famous for its giant redwoods and as John Muir famously said himself, "This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." Hiking to and thru the park is so overwhelmingly beautiful, however, there are precautions that must be make.  The hillsides are laced with poison oak.  If you're not aware a wonderous day could be followed by 10-14 days of misery.
 
My hiking companion had never been to the park before today.  She also had no idea what poison oak looks like.  So part of the day was spent on the lookout and avoiding the branches popping out onto the trail - which at times wasn't easy. 
 
Poisonous plants should not be a deterrent to exercising outdoors. Familiarizing yourself with the plants in your region, in order to avoid contact, is the best way to keep from having your outdoor workout ruined by poisonous flora.
 
Half of all people are allergic to poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, contact with poisonous plants is the number one cause of allergic reactions in the United States.  Upwards of 50 million Americans this year, will have a brush with a poisonous shrub.
 
Poisonous plants grow in nearly every US state. Hawaii and Alaska are said to be free of poisonous plants. Poison oak is found in the West, Southeast and parts of Canada. Poison ivy and poison sumac can be found in the East and Southern Canada.
 
“Leaves of three, let them be.”
A common children’s rhyme teaches us to spot plants with leaves of three. Poison oak and poison ivy have clusters of three leaflets, and are fairly easy to spot.  Sumac has anywhere from 7 to 13 leaves on a branch. Spring and summer the plants are dark green or red and can be found along the ground or growing up rocks and trees. The fresh leaves and overhanging vines may be the toughest to spot. From late summer into fall, the leaves may turn yellow or brown and then the plant loses its leaves completely in the winter. Beware, the bare stems are still toxic.
 
Avoid the Rash
The allergic reaction comes from contact with the toxic oil called urushiol on the leaves and stems. This toxic oil is so powerful that can survive up to two years in a dead plant!  Simply being near the plant will not provoke a response. However, contact with clothing or pets can spread the urushiol.
 
Symptoms of the allergic reaction to poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac are similar.  It begins as an itchy rash and may spread to different parts of the body. The rash will reach its peak in about five days. It is not possible to spread the rash by scratching or breaking the blisters open, because it’s the oil that spreads the rash. Complete healing takes about 10-14 days.
 
Keep it Cool
If exposed to a poisonous plant, immediately wash the area with soap and cool water. The cool water can remove the oil, whereas warm or hot water can spread it. Over the counter formulations like Tecnu® can help to remove the oil and prevent a rash. Treat an itchy rash with calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and cool oatmeal baths.
 
Urushiol can stay active for quite some time after exposure. Wash all clothing, including shoes in cold water to remove the oil and to prevent exposure.
 
Quick FactsPoisonous plants
•    Poisonous plants grow in all US states, with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska
•    Poison oak is common to the American West and Southeast, as well as Canada
•    Poison ivy and poison sumac are found in the American East and Southern Canada
•    More than half of humans are allergic to poison oak, ivy and sumac. Contact with these plants is the number one cause of allergic skin reactions in the US
 

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