Warm weather is here and outdoors is the place to be. The warmer weather stimulates activity not only in people, but in plants as well, some of them of the wild growing, poisonous variety.
The old saying goes: ‘‹Å”leaves of three, let them be’, and it is a good motto to live by when enjoying the outdoors. Poison oak, poison ivy and sumac usually grow in wooded areas, but can be found in urban backyards. Knowing how to identify the poisonous trio will prevent coming into contact with the plants and developing a painful, itchy rash.
Poison Ivy and Poison Oak
Poison ivy and poison oak can be found growing almost anywhere in the United States. The plants grow as a low shrubs or vines and produce leaves in clusters of three. Poison oak may also produce leaf clusters with odd numbered leaves (5, 7, or 9). Poison ivy and poison oak produce vines with hair-like tendrils that grip on tree trunks and climb up the tree. Either poisonous plant will grow in sun or shade and in the fall, the leaves of poison ivy will turn lovely shades of red and yellow. The low growing, colorful leaves beckon to be touched in the fall, but don’t give in to the temptation, the poisonous plant oil is still active.
Poison ivy and poison oak contain urushiol, an oil that causes skin to itch, burn and break out in watery blisters. The oil rests on the plant’s surface, so even if a pant leg (shoe, sock) comes into contact with one of the poisonous plants, the oil is transferred to the pant leg and if any bare skin comes into contact with the oil on the pant leg, a rash can develop. If pets come into contact with urushiol, the rash-causing oil is transferred to their coats and can be transferred to owners during petting.
Sumac gives a slightly more visible warning of it’s poisonous side, it grows as a large shrub or small tree in most of the Untied States, being most prolific in swampy regions. Sumac bears a deep burgundy, cone-shaped, mid-summer blooms which faces upward on it’s long, slender branches. The urushiol-coated tree is beautifully deceptive in the fall when it turns brilliant shades of red, pink and yellow.
Removing Poison Ivy, Poison Oak or Sumac
If any of the tri-leafed poisonous trio grows in your yard, it can be removed with caution and diligence. Wear protective clothing and goggles, then pull poison ivy and oak up by the roots. The plant roots run deep and can reach for several feet away from the plants. Sumac trees usually require digging to remove all tree roots. Do not burn after removal, the urushiol will be in the smoke and can be inhaled and cause serious respiratory problems.