Warm spring weather encourages Americans everywhere to venture outside for impromptu baseball games, hiking trips, picnics, and barbecues. It's easy to let your guard down while you're having fun, but getting too relaxed around these plants could send you straight to the doctor.
Poison ivy isn't poisonous or even a true ivy, but the urushiol in its sap can give you a terrible rash. It typically grows in undisturbed areas, especially east of the Rockies, so watch out when you're hiking through the wilderness.
Plants typically have symmetrical leaves, but the poison ivy's compound leaves can be both symmetrical and asymmetrical. They can also be smooth or jagged. Poison ivy vines are often visible too, especially during harsh winters. Mature vines are known as “hairy rope” for their dark, hair-like finish. You can identify this plant by its signature three-leaf clusters.
If you do come in contact with poison ivy, wash the exposed area liberally with cool water. Don't touch your eyes or mouth as the rash can spread internally. Never burn it, because the smoke can cause a rash. Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths can ease the itch. If the rash worsens or lasts for a few weeks, visit your nearest urgent care location.
Poison oak is another non-poisonous (but very nasty) rash-inducing plant containing urushiol. You'll find it in thickets, forests, and sandy fields from New Jersey to Florida on the East Coast. In the Western U.S., it's most commonly found in Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Kansas, and Nevada.
Poison oak has three to five lobed and scalloped leaves, which can be wrinkled. The tree also bears an unusual fuzzy fruit. Poison oak causes a similar rash to poison ivy, which should be treated in the same way.
Stinging nettles might have medicinal properties and culinary uses, but unless you know what you're doing, you should definitely steer clear. Their genus name is Urtica, which comes from the Latin word meaning “to burn.”
These nasty plants grow throughout the United States, especially in damp environments. They stand around three feet high and have yellow or pink flowers and heart-shaped, finely toothed leaves. Fine stinging hairs hide underneath the leaves, which break off like tiny needles when they come in contact with skin.
If you are stung, you'll want to scratch, but you should resist the urge or you'll get blisters. Instead, wash your hands thoroughly, apply calamine lotion to the affected areas, and wash your hands again. This lotion will relieve the itch and keep you from spreading the rash.
Mala mujer is Spanish for “bad woman,” and this thorny plant (also known as Texas bullnettle), can be every bit as painful as a femme fatale. Popular Mechanics called it the best home-security system for those dangerous barbs and its poisonous, milky sap.
This vile liquid can cause painful skin irritations and ugly skin discoloration. Topical ointments may ease the irritation, but the stains will remain. Wash your hands quickly if you encounter the sap, because if it reaches your eyes, it can cause long-term damage.
You'll find mala mujer through America's Southwest region and Mexico. It grows between one and three feet tall, and it has crinkled, dark green leaves and pretty white flowers from April to September.
Remember to be safe in your outdoor adventures, and keep an eye out for these unpleasant plants this spring. They could turn your outdoor fun into a nightmare.