Horticulture 101: Identify Poison Ivy and More

Poison ivy can be life threatening for some, and for others, it's just another day of work. Learn how to identify this plant and kill it without coming in contact with it.

I was visiting with someone Sunday and noticed they had poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac on their arm. I casually asked how they got such a bad case, and he said it was "not a big deal it, happens all the time." My follow-up question was if he knew how to identify the aforementioned poisonous plants. He said, “Oh, sure they all have four leaves that are red.” As Jeff Foxworthy would say, “Here’s your sign!” He was not properly identifying one of the three most dangerous plants in North America.

Today, we'll focus on poison ivy, but the rule applies to poison oak was well. Remember, "leaves of three, leave be." Every part of this plant can cause mild to severe skin irritation. Leaves, stems and yes, even the roots can cause you harm. The difficult part is when you're clearing brush or cleaning vines off of trees and the leaves have not formed yet. Bare vines look innocent until 12 to 48 hours late a rash appears on the exposed skin that touched.

Washing off the oil immediately after exposure can help prevent an allergic reaction, but that's not always feasible when working. My husband is extremely allergic to it and has required shots to keep him alive. We now have soap that is designed specifically for removing the oils of all poisonous plants that are common in the states. He's also allergic to Calamine lotion, so relief is not easy. I highly recommend that it is part of your first aid kit for the team. We carry the kits in our trucks for easy access. You know me and my safety obsession!

Let us look at the causes of the rash from these three poisonous plants. Of course, directly touching any of these plants can cause irritation and that includes all parts from vegetative to blooms and even the berries. It is the next leading cause of skin rashes that most people do not consider. You can also get skin irritation if you touched something that touched the poisonous plant! The oil called urushiol can stay with objects like gloves, shoes, clothing and our beloved pets. Just ask Zoe... don't kill me, Zoe, for sharing your misfortune! She has poison oak now, and she got it from her four-legged, fur-family member: her cat. We all love Zoe, and do not want to see anything harm her! The final cause is inhaling the smoke from plants burning. Burning plant debris is a common in Texas and perhaps other parts of the country too, so BE CAREFUL!

How can you prevent getting urushiol on you?

  • Avoid working with it - that's obvious! However, as business owners, you should ask who is allergic and who is not. If they don't know, assume the worst until proven otherwise. 
  • Kill the plants! Ask your local co-op or extension service for recommendations in your area for eradicating the plants. They can suggest the chemicals that are allowed in your region and how to properly dispose of it.
  • Wash everything that you wore with soap and hot water, including your clothes. I triple rinse our clothes and then run the washer to clean it. Bathe those pets, too!
  • Clean anything that touches the plants - tools, gloves, shoe laces - ALL of it!
  • Apply preventative creams and have post-ivy soaps on hand (available at local drugstores).
  • Seek immediate medical help if blisters form or the rash appears on the face!

Pictures of the culprits would help you identify them properly. We have a small booklet for our guys that are new, so they can use caution.

Click here for more information. 


Topics: Technical Training



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