Avoid Poison Plants

We’ve talked about how to protect yourself from stinging and biting insects when exercising outdoors, but there are also plants that you should avoid. Many people will experience an allergic reaction on the skin when they come into contact with poison sumac, poison oak or poison ivy. These plants exude an oil called urushiol which can cause a painful, itchy rash and sometimes blisters. The rash usually does not appear before 12 hours after exposure and can occur up to 72 hours after you come into contact with one of these plants. Learn to identify these plants so you can avoid contact and reduce your risk of an itchy rash.  The saying “leaves of three, let it be” is a good way to identify most poisonous plants. Poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak all have three leaves on the end of a stem.
POISON IVY Photo Credit: Stilfehler CC-BY-SA-3.0
 Poison ivy grows in shady, wooded areas. It grows in a low bush or can trail up a tree or fence like a vine. The whole plant is poisonous. The stems, leaves, flowers and the roots can cause a skin rash. You can even get a rash from touching clothing that has been exposed to the urushiol on this plant. Wear long pants and long sleeves if you plan to walk or jog in wooded areas or along a path where poison ivy is growing. A slight brush against the leaves or stems is enough to cause a rash. Poison ivy also grows in residential areas along fences and on tree trunks. Keep fence lines trimmed. Wear protective clothing, gloves and a face mask when removing poison ivy from your fence or tree.
POISON OAK Photo Credit: Tim Vasquez CC-BY-SA-3.0
Poison oak also has a 3-part leave group on the end of a stem and usually grows low to the ground. The leaves have a jagged edge much like an oak leaf. The leaves change color with the season and may be dark green in the spring and early summer but change to a yellow, a rich red or a reddish-black color in the fall and early winter. Poison oak has small green berries that turn to a pale white-green in the summer to early autumn. There is so much urushiol in this plant that the leaves are shiny with the oil. Poison oak, like poison ivy, grows in a low bush or can climb trees and fences like a vine. 
POISON SUMAC Photo Credit: USDA PD
Poison sumac leaves are smoother on the edges and often have a mottled dark green, red, brown, yellow appearance with black spots. The black spots are the areas where the urushiol is excreted. Poison sumac usually grows in damp or swampy areas. It prefers shade to sunlit areas. Poison sumac grows as a small shrub and can achieve the size of a small tree. Each leaf group has a row of paired leaves on the stem with the third leaf on the end of the stem. 
If you do come into contact with one of these poisonous plants, DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR RUB YOUR EYES. You could transfer the oil to your face and eyes. Wash the affected area with soap and cool water as soon as possible. Wash your clothes and shoes as well. A rash can develop from contact with the oil from these plants on clothes and shoes. Calamine lotion can help relieve the itching if you do develop a rash. Do not pop blisters as this will spread the rash. See your doctor if the rash becomes painful or does not clear up in a few days. 
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About Robin R.
I’m an AFPA certified personal trainer & nutrition consultant, NASM certified corrective exercise specialist, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I specialize in weight loss, functional strength training, total body toning, aerobic conditioning, plyometric training, nutrition planning, and home-based boot camp style workouts for women. My goal is to make every personal training session fun and effective for my clients. My services include both in-home personal training and online fitness coaching.

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