Poison Ivy and Oak, Sumac, and Hogweed

Apparently, this summer of 2013 has seen an increase in dangerous plants in the Ottawa area. I don’t know the reason for this, perhaps it is because of all the rain we have had. These plants are cropping up along nature trails, golf courses, and even in small residential gardens, creating misery for anyone that comes into contact with them. Learn how to identify poison ivy, poison oak, sumac, and hogweed so you can stay clear of them.

What Poison Ivy and Oak, Sumac, and Hogweed Look Like

The first picture shows you what poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants look like.   The next three pictures are of giant hogweed; flower, leaves and stem/stalk.    Hogweed looks something like Queen Anne’s Lace, a common wildflower found along Ontario roadways, except Hogweed flowers are rounder and larger.  This plant can grow up to 15 feet tall with the leaves reaching up to 5 feet in size.  The stems are green with purple spots and white hairs.

Poison ivy and oak can grow as a plant, shrub, or vine.  Poison sumac only grows as a shrub.  

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac all Contain Urushiol

They all have an oil called urushiol on all parts of the plants, including the roots.  The urushiol is easily transferred to objects that come into contact with the plants, including skin, gardening tools, pets, camping equipment, golf clubs etc.  An allergic reaction to the urushiol causes a skin rash that can develop anywhere from hours to days later.  The rash then develops into oozing blisters with streaks or patches where contact with the oil occurred.   This reaction usually lasts from five to 12 days but can extend to thirty days in a severe case.  The rash is not contagious, as the blisters do not contain the urushiol.  You can, however, continue to be exposed if the object the oil contacted is not cleaned well.  You can also inhale the oil from the smoke if the plant parts are burned, causing severe reactions in the throat, nose, and lungs.

Hogweed Reactions are more Severe

Hogweed causes a much more severe reaction, but the reaction is not caused by simply brushing against the plant as with poison ivy, oak, or sumac.  The stems, leaves and roots of hogweed contain a clear, liquid sap which leaks from the plant parts only when they are broken.  When the sap comes into contact with skin and the skin is exposed to sun, a reaction occurs, causing a painful, burning, blistering rash with purple/black scars.  This reaction can last for years.

Please make sure you know how to identify poison ivy, oak, sumac, and hogweed so you can steer clear of them!

Poison Ivy turned our Vacation into a Staycation

Poison Ivy turned our two-week vacation into a staycation.  A few days before our vacation, my husband was golfing in a tournament with some friends from work.  He figures that is where he picked up the poison ivy.  Of course, it could have been poison oak or sumac, but he didn’t actually notice the plants in the rough around him and only thought about it a few days later when he broke out into a rash on his legs.  Poison ivy, oak, and sumac all have different-looking leaves on their respective plants, but the results are the same when you come into contact with them…

poison ivy, oak, sumac, and hogweed

We managed to get a weekend away to the zoo and a Blue Jays game in Toronto before the rash spread further, but that trip probably made things worse.  He was too embarrassed by his pink (calamine-coated) legs to wear shorts, so the jeans he wore for the full day at the zoo aggravated the rash even further.  By the next day, both legs from the thigh to the ankle were affected.   Two weeks later he is just starting to recover…

We had planned to visit our cottage for most of the two weeks but stayed home instead as he thought sitting around at the cottage not able to do any of the work we had planned up there would be too frustrating.  Not to mention he could not put sunscreen or bug spray on his legs.  So, once we returned from Toronto, he walked around the house in his underwear and a T-shirt, with his legs coated with calamine lotion, cortisone cream, Aveeno cream, you name it, we tried it…

As I often do when life gives me lemons, I made lemonade, so the time was not completely wasted.  I made a list of all the little jobs that needed doing around the house and we got those done.  We just had all of our doors and windows replaced, so the curtains and their accessories had all been removed.  The curtains are now all washed, and hanging back where they should be, except of course the ones I am tired of and need to replace.  All of our new inside door handles (we had to replace them to match the ones on our new front and side doors) are installed and look great.  The rusty cast iron urns I purchased recently now have a nice new coat of spray paint on them and look awesome beside my garage on the driveway, and the garage is cleaned out.   We also sat out on the back deck for coffee and lunch most days, which is unusual for him.  We ate more junk food and drank more wine than usual, but that is expected when you are on vacation, isn’t it?

I also spent time working on my own gardens, which is something I never seem to get around to doing since I started a gardening business and get paid to work on other people’s gardens…

Back to work for both of us tomorrow, although I am not sure how he is going to make it through a whole day with pants on!