“Leaves of three, leave them be.”
This little rhyme is continuously memorized by cub scouts countrywide, and yet more than 40 million people head to the doctor’s office each year following unfortunate brushes with common poisonous plants such as poison ivy and poison oak.
The popular adage doesn’t quite jibe with poison sumac, either – which can boast clusters of up to 13 leaves. That being said, even poison ivy and poison oak can differ in appearance from location to location, depending on variables including season and climate.
In addition to being deceptively difficult to distinguish from other, more affable shrubs and vines, these three common poisonous plants contain a yellow sap called urushiol in their stems, roots, and smooth, glossy leaves. When coming in contact with human skin, the irritant causes the immune system to launch an offensive, resulting in severe itching, redness, and flaky blisters, which can take up to 2 weeks to heal.
Interestingly, urushiol seems to only affect primates and humans. Dogs and cats can pass the oil on to their owners, however, as can tools, clothing, and pretty much any material that comes in contact with the plant, making the spread of this irritant difficult to track or isolate.
As your children embark on their summer adventures outdoors, arm them with some additional info regarding these common poisonous plants, and keep a lookout yourself.
Eastern poison ivy is a weedy, ropelike vine that sports three shiny green leaflets from a small, singular stem. The western variety also has three leaves, but is a shrub that does not form a vine. Either variety may also sport yellow or green flowers.
Similar to poison ivy, poison oak is typically found in shrub form with three leaves, although the pacific variety can form a vine. It too may be accompanied by yellow or green flowers and bunches of yellow-green berries.
A woody shrub, sumac typically grows with clusters of 7-13 leaves in pairs. It can be accompanied by pale yellow or cream colored berries. Normally found in southeastern swampland, it is not out of the question in the northern parts of the U.S.
As you may have guessed, avoidance is the primary defense against these common poisonous plants. Make sure your child wears long sleeves and pants when walking in wooded areas this summer. If your child comes in contact with poison ivy and breaks out in a rash, remember the following:
• Wash thoroughly with soap and water. Urushiol typically bonds with skin within 30 minutes, but soap and water will prevent your child from spreading the irritant elsewhere on their body.
• Over the counter ointments, such as Benadryl, Hydrocortisone, and Calamine lotion help to reduce itchiness.
• Topical antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, can help to prevent infection if blisters are scratched open.
• Consult your pediatric provider if a fever develops.
KinderMender has certainly seen its share of rashes and irritation caused by common poisonous plants over the years, and our physicians can help relieve the symptoms.
Call us today, or stop by one of our three convenient locations – soon to be four convenient locations. Stay tuned for additional updates on our upcoming Timonium office!