Summer is a time for enjoying the great outdoors, but before you go tramping off into unfamiliar woods, and wild terrain, you should familiarize yourself with some of the more common poisonous plants. A little preparation can save you hours or days of the uncomfortable after-effects of coming in contact with poisonous plants. This is also a good time of year to be talking about poisonous plants because the sap is most abundant during the summertime, and it’s usually the sap which causes the problems.
I’ll talk about poisonous plants in general, and then I’ll go into a little detail about poison ivy, oak, and sumac. My information was provided by Extension Emeritus Horticulturist Dr. Robert J. Black, of the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture of Sciences (IFAS).
Poisonous plants can be divided into two groups those which causes skin irritation, and those which cause internal distress, and in rare cases, even death. It’s important to note that even though we usually think of poisonous plants as something you find only in the woods, they’re actually almost everywhere, in the garden, along roadsides, even in the house.
Many factors influence the poisonous nature of particular plant. Plant poisons can be dispersed throughout the plant, or they may be localized in a particular plant part, such as in roots, berries, or seeds. The amount of poison in a plant may vary, even among plants of the same species, depending on the time of year, the weather conditions, and the soil.
In addition, the poisonous reaction varies among people coming in contact with the plant. Obviously, the health and age of the person, and the quantity of the poison contacted or ingested will influence the effects.
If you can learn to identify some of the common poisonous plants, you’ll be better able to avoid them. So I’ll briefly go over the three most common ones; poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
Poison ivy can have a variety of leaf shapes, but one identifying feature remains constant, the leaflets always come in threes, with two of them directly opposite each other. White waxy flowers can be found on the smaller branches, and sometime remain on the stems even after the leaves have fallen. Poison ivy commonly grows as a vine, climbing into threes, over fences, and up the sides of walls. In open fields, however, poison ivy may appear as a shrub.
Poison oak usually appears as a low growing shrub. The slender, upright branches bear leaflets which resemble oak leaves. They also grow in threes, just like poison ivy. Usually the undersides of the leaves are lighter in color, because they’re covered with fine hairs.
Poison sumac is a coarse woody shrub, or small tree. It never grows in a vine like fashion the way other poisonous plants do. It frequently grows near swamps, and ranges in height from five or six feet to twenty-five feet. The leaves are divided into seven to thirteen leaflets that grow in pairs. At the end of each stem, is a single leaflet. In the spring, leaves are bright orange and velvety in texture. Later in the summer, they become dark green and glossy, with lower leaves paler green in color.
These are the most common poisonous plants. But there are many more that you should familiarize yourself with. Learn the poisonous plants in your neighborhood and keep small children away from them. In the case of suspected plant poisoning, call the Florida Poison Control Center in your area.
For more information on poisonous plants contact the Gulf County Extension Service @ 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see Publication ENH 886 or Native Florida Plants.