Poison Ivy Isn’t the Only Irritating Plant of Summer

poison-sumac-itchy-plants.jpgNothing can put a damper on a restful summer’s eve faster than the uncontrollable itch caused by an irritating plant. And while avoiding “leaflets three” is good advice, allergies to many other troublesome plants can develop literally out of the blue, causing red, itchy blisters. Sudden sensitivities after years of resistance to offending plants are common.

Skin-irritant plants in the DC metro area

Now that the summer season is in full-swing, learn to identify some of the most common offenders that lurk in parks, on trails, and in the backyard.

In the mid-Atlantic region, some common plants to watch out for include:

  • Bishop’s flower (Ammi majus) - also known as false Queen Anne’s lace, can cause light sensitivity, hives, and nasal inflammation.
  • Giant hogweed, wild parsnip (Heracleum mantegazzianum) - a noxious weed that grows to over ten feet tall, blooms around the Fourth of July, sap causes photodermatitis; possible third degree burns and blindness.
    hogweed itchy plant
  • Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) - a root vegetable, sap and leaves can cause red, blistering skin (known as parsnip burn) days after contact; wear gloves when handling.
  • Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) - has three leaflets; great climber.
    poison ivy itchy plant
  • Poison oak - (Toxicodendron pubescens) also has three leaflets; grows upright, has hairy leaves.
    poison oak itchy plant
  • Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) - covers nearly the entire North American continent, grows 6 to 20 feet tall, identifiable by its red stems. (lead image above)
  • Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) – its pollen can cause a rash in allergic individuals.
  • Spotted or prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata) - a common weed that has a milky sap that is a mild skin-irritant.
  • Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) – has leaves and stems covered with piercing hairs that cause rash, pain, and swelling.
  • Trumpet creeper, cow itch (Campsis radicans) - invasive vine with red-orange flowers. Its leaves can cause skin irritation, itching, and hot and cold sensitivity.
    campsis itchy plant
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) - a fast-growing member of the grape family, identifiable by its five-part leaves, sap in its stems causes rash.
    virginia creeper itchy palnt
  • Wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) - found in open woods and along streams, stalks and leaves are covered with stinging hairs.

The rash, blisters, and itching reaction caused by the “poison” plants on this list is due to a resin called urushiol. Once it soaks into the skin, the invisible compound can cause discomfort for days or even weeks.

Prevention mitigates misery

The easiest way to avoid a reaction to a poisonous plant is to identify and avoid it. Accidental exposure can be avoided by dressing accordingly: long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and closed shoes or boots.

If the plant has made skin contact, it is important to thoroughly scrub and rinse the area as soon as possible. Some recommend the product Tecnu, Fels Naptha soap, or Dove dishwashing liquid. But any soap, and even hand sanitizer or an alcohol wipe will do.

Avoid possible transfer of plant oils from clothes by removing them immediately and placing in the washing machine. Avoid cross-contamination via washcloths, towels, bedding, and other items in the home. As an added precaution, clean garden tools and shoes with rubbing alcohol.

Cleansing the affected area may not stop an itchy plant reaction if more than ten minutes have elapsed. Less sensitive individuals have up to four hours. If a rash develops, try not to scratch, as this could cause an infection. Note than remedies that contain alcohol can scar the skin.

Home remedies for itching:

  • Baking soda paste or bath
  • Banana peel
  • Cold compresses
  • Plantain (Plantago major) - juice from the crushed leaves of this weed.
    plantain juice for treating poison ivy rash
  • Tree tea oil

Drugstore itch remedies:

  • Benadryl Gel
  • Calamine lotion
  • Calaclear
  • Colloidal oatmeal bath
  • Domboro Soothing Soak
  • Hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment
  • Ivy-Dry
  • Milk of Magnesia

More serious cases

Some cases require a dermatologist visit for a topical or oral steroid prescription. If the rash lasts longer than three weeks, is on your face, genitals or over 30% of the body, make a doctor’s appointment. Also consult a physician if breathing difficulty or a fever develops.

Surprising facts about itchy plants:

  • Only urushiol can be spread by contact. Oozing blisters are not contagious and cannot spread the rash.
  • Repeated exposure increases sensitivity.
  • Pets are not affected but their fur and toys can carry and transfer the oily resin to humans.
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