The great outdoors. Isn’t it nice to experience what Mother Nature has to offer? Wonderful sceneries, fresher air, fun and adventure, peace and quiet…Indeed, there are many things nature has to offer.
Unfortunately, communing with nature sometimes also comes with a few consequences, if one isn’t careful. Sometimes, it’s because of the things people least expect that they should avoid, like plants. Well, certain plants. Not all plants are people-friendly.
Plants To Avoid When Camping and Hiking
When planning to go camping and hiking especially with kids, it is important to know what things to avoid for safety’s sake. That includes the plants that may prove harmful to people.
Check out the list below for some of the most common culprits. Make sure to be familiar with how they look. The best way to avoid the culprits is to be able to recognize them.
The “Leaves of Three” – Poison Ivy and Poison Oak
When people say, “leaves of three, leave ‘em be,” they are referring to poison ivy and poison oak. Both plants belong to the Family Toxicodendron. If one sees plants (vines or shrubs) with leaves growing in a cluster of three, watch out! As the saying goes, leave them be. The look of these can change with seasons, so it’s important to learn to identify poison ivy and poison oak to avoid coming in contact with them when your are hiking or camping. In poison ivy, the top leaflet features a distinctive longer stalk while the side leaflets features shorter stem which is almost invisible. The surface of the leaves may or may not have a waxy or oily surface that somewhat reflects the light. The leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern on the stem and they may be hairy, or have no hairs at all. Climbing poison ivy vines can have a hairy appearance. Poison oak is somewhat similar to poison ivy with its leaves grow in group of three. The poison oak leaf shape resembles an oak leaf, with jagged, uneven edges and rounded tips. Its leaflets are duller green and usually distinctly toothed than poison ivy.
Poison ivy and poison oak plants are particularly notorious for causing allergic reactions that lead to painfully itchy rashes, blisters, even swelling and difficulty in breathing in more extreme cases. They carry the oily skin irritant called urushiol that causes those reactions.
The growing season of the poison plants is from May to November. They grow abundantly in North America (primarily in the Midwest and the eastern US). Poison ivy may also appear as ground cover or as bushes/shrubs that may reach four feet. Also be careful with mango trees, cashew trees, ginkgo trees, and the invasive Brazilian pepper. They all also contain urushiol, although amounts vary. So they may or may not affect a person.
Poison sumac,Toxicodendron vernix, is another relative of poison ivy and poison oak that produces the same oil irritant, urushiol, which causes the same rashes. Unlike poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac is characterized with its 7–13 pairs of elongated leaflets. They are abundant along the Mississippi River and boggy areas of the Southeast.
If one is out hiking or camping and comes in contact with these “poison” plants, try to take a dip in any nearby bodies of water because that will help ease the irritation a great deal. If there’s no body of water, try to dampen a clean, soft cloth and pat around affected areas. Take off clothes and shoes that may have come in contact with any of the plants. Avoid touching things that also may have come in contact with it. Wash pets, too. Do make sure to wash the hands, especially under the nails where the oily toxin maybe “hiding”.
If there are lotions, creams or medicine brought along for first-aid purposes (there should be), use them. Zanfel and Tecnu cleanser can easily wash off poison ivy oil from the skin. Zanfel relieves pain and itching in minutes. Zanfel is known to remove urushiol, the oil compound responsible for the reaction, from your skin, instead of just treating poison ivy rash and other symptoms. It can be applied anytime after exposure including the face and genitals. It’s safe for children and nursing or pregnant women.
The best way to use Tecnu Original is to apply it even before poison ivy rash begins. It’s best to use it within 8 hours after coming in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac to remove the oil toxin before the rash begins. Tecnu Original can also be used to wash off poison ivy oil from your pets, clothes, tools, and gears.
Over the counter poison ivy treatment is also great in soothing the rash and relieve itching. Topical over-the-counter skin protectants such as zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide, and calamine lotion.
Manchineel is an evergreen tree sometimes called beach apple due to its leaves and fruits resembling an apple. It does have a more dangerous nickname — manzanilla de la muerte. That’s Spanish for “little apple of death”.
It has earned the nickname for the number of toxins it contains.
- Its fruits can cause blisters in the mouth and the esophagus and can possibly kill when consumed.
- The milky sap (from the leaves and bark) contains the chemical phorbol that causes strong allergic skin reactions.
- Phorbol from the leaves may burn anyone under the tree when it rains — raindrops can collect the phorbol before falling/dripping. It has the potential to blind anyone.
- Simply touching the tree causes blisters.
On a historical note, natives used the sap to poison arrows long ago.
Manchineel trees are found in Florida, the Caribbean, and some parts of Central and South America. If one accidentally touches a manchineel or ingests its fruit, seek help IMMEDIATELY. Never burn a manchineel or that may cause extreme lung or eye irritation. Contact an expert arborist.
PoisonwoodThis 35-foot tall evergreen shade tree or shrub is in the same family (Metopium) as the Manchineel and also carries urushiol like the Toxicodendron plants. So yes, this tree can be pretty poisonous and is better left alone. It is said to be much, much worse than poison ivy.
When out hiking, watch out for trees with oily-looking trunks and glossy six to ten inches long green leaves outlined or tipped with a bright yellow rim. The oily substance that appears like wet back spots on the tree is the urushiol. So don’t touch, don’t walk under it especially while or after a rain. Don’t heed this warning or the skin breakouts can only be treated with medical-grade anti-itch creams. Too bad if there’s no such cream within arm’s reach.
Since it is like poison ivy and its pals, follow what are recommended above to avoid or treat allergic reactions.
Poisonwood is often found in Florida, particularly in Key West and other natural lands in Southeast Florida. Be careful when hiking along the Everglades National Park, Long Key State Park, National Key Deer Refuge, and the Overseas Heritage Trail.
This perennial plant grows practically anywhere. Its beautiful white flowers are enticing to touch but never try. The hairs along the bright green leaves and young stems of a Stinging Nettles plant has formic acid and other chemicals that can sting the skin and cause blisters. If it’s any consolation to any victim of this plant, the symptoms do not last long, no longer than 24 hours.
Here’s one mind-blowing trivia, though: Boiling the plant transforms it into a nutritious edible plant that has healing properties! It heals urinary tract infections and joint pain, among other things. Therefore, the only reason to actually get close to this plant is for nutritional and medicinal purposes. That is as long as the picker wears safety gloves and picks the smallest leaves.
Stinging nettles can be found in Eurasia, North and South America, and Northern Africa. They usually grow in damp and shady areas. Once stung, wash the hands and affected areas, the go back to washing the hands. Apply Calamine Lotion or another over-the-counter cream that rids of the itchiness.
By the way, it is said that jewelweed and dockweed are traditional, natural remedies, although there is still no actual study to support this claim. Jewelweed usually grows where stinging nettles do. So once stung, try to look for jewelweed around and rub the juice from its crushed stem and leaves on the affected areas. Do the same with dockweed.
There are two species of hogweed, the giant hogweed and the common hogweed. They look like tall carrot plants with white flower clusters.
The weedy wildflowers’ leaves and sap can spell danger for any hiker or camper. Those have chemicals called furocoumarins that cause the serious skin inflammation phytophotodermatitis. That’s when the skin erupts in blisters when exposed to sunlight. Reaction begins in 15 minutes and peaks from 30 minutes to two hours. If the sap enters the eyes, it can cause blindness.
The sap is in all parts of the plant. But it is high in these parts: lower part of the hollow stems and petioles, hollow hairs on the plant, the foliage, stem, flower, and fruit (seed).
If one develops allergic reactions to hogweed, wash immediately the affected areas with soap and cold water. Do not expose the areas to the sunlight for at least 48 hours. Apply topical steroids early if available, or use sun block. Most importantly, if the sap gets into the eyes, rinse well with water immediately. Wear sunglasses to minimize the reaction.
Hogweed can be found both in Europe and naturalized parts of the US.
These plants are only some of the harmful plants that may hurt campers and hikers. While it is always good to know what to do in times of emergencies, of course, prevention is the best advice. Find out what they look like then stay away from them!