Ditch The Itch: 4 Plants You Should Definitely Avoid This Summer

We all know to steer clear of the three poison amigos—also known as poison ivy, oak and sumac. But have you ever really stopped to think about what these plants actually look like and how to avoid them? Chances are you aren’t the only one who may be drawing a blank here (did we miss the lesson on poison ivy 101?).

So in case you’re one of the many who doesn’t know the facts about poison ivy and oak by heart (does it always have 3 leaves or is it 5?), we thought it would be a good idea to provide a quick refresher on what these plants look like, where they grow and what other plants may cause some serious itching—besides these 3.

Here is your summer survival guide: plant edition

1.    What: Poison ivy is the notorious plant that inspired the old adage, “Leaves of three, let them be.” In addition to leaflets of 3 and its vine or shrub shape, you should watch for different colored leaves throughout the different seasons—reddish in the spring, green in the summer and yellow, orange or red in the fall.  
Where: Thanks to the lovely climate of GA, and a variety of landscapes, you can find poison ivy just about anywhere—along the road, on a fence post, in a sunny setting or in the woods—you name it, it’s there.

Why: The dreaded rash that usually forms after touching poison ivy is due to oil in the plant sap—which is on its leaves and stems—called urushiol. The oil will typically cause a reaction (consisting of blistering, itchy rash) within 12-72 hours. And contrary to popular belief, this rash is not contagious, even if it seems to spread.

2.    What: Poison Oak, often mistaken for poison ivy, is a shrubby or viney plant that has three leaves with a classic oak leaf shape (but it’s unrelated to the oak tree). Poison oak usually has leaves that are a deep green (sometimes reddish), with a lighter underside. And if it has any berries, they will hang in clusters and be yellow-white.

Where: Poison oak isn’t nearly as common as poison ivy. So if you do spot some growing, it will likely be in a dry, sunny area.

Why: Just like its ivy counterpart, poison oak causes a reaction from urushiol oil that can lead to a painful, itchy rash with blistering. Typically a rash will appear within 12 to 72 hours after contact and it will subside in just a few itchy weeks.

3.    What: Stinging Nettle, just like the poisonous trio, stinging nettle has a few relatives, like bull nettle, nettle tree and wood nettle, which can all cause painful, itchy reactions. With its bright green, jagged leaves, stinging nettle is sure to catch your attention. If its color doesn’t, you’ll likely notice its tall, single stem that grows upwards of 8 feet.

Where: While stinging nettle is common throughout GA, you’ll most likely notice it in dense, shady areas—in other words, the perfect place for a stream-side hike.

Why: This plant definitely got its name for a reason. With microscopic, stinging hairs that grow on the leaves, and sometimes on the stem, you’ll feel a painful, sting accompanied by burning/itching and sometimes blistering. These symptoms will appear as soon as you touch it, but they’ll likely go away within 24 hours—thankfully!

4.    What: Leadwort, while may sound like a made-up plant name, plumbago is actually more common than you might think. It’s often utilized in gardening because of its ability to provide ample ground cover, along with dusty blue flowers that grow all summer long—pretty right?

Where: Because plumbago is often purposefully planted, you are most likely to see it in gardens with part or full sun. While it’s most popular use is groundcover, you may notice it cascading down fences, along borders or in containers.

Why: Despite its frequent use in gardens for that pop of blue color, plumbago can be extremely irritating if you touch it. Often times, handling it will lead to redness, irritation and blistering on contact, so try to resist touching those eye-catching flowers.

I’ve touched one of these plants, now what?

In this instance, rubbing alcohol and water—seriously, a lot of water—are your best friends to help remove any oil or sap. If you can wash off the oil within 5 minutes, you may be able to avoid a rash—fingers crossed.

If the oil has been on the skin for more than 5 minutes, you should still wash your skin, just for good measure and to prevent the oil from spreading. And don’t forget to clean off any clothing, outdoor gear, furniture or flooring to prevent spreading the oil around.

And add oatmeal to your lukewarm (not hot) bath water and soak in it to help ease itching, especially with poison ivy. And while you’re at it, grab some calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or an over-the-counter antihistamine to get some relief. And if resisting the itch is getting to be too much—because it’s darn hard not to give in and scratch it—or you notice other symptoms, like a fever, swelling or discomfort, get the care—and itch-relief—you need, exactly when you need it


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