Spring and summer months are perfect for outdoor activities. When camping or hiking, it is important to know what plants to avoid. Some poisonous plants can cause harm to humans and animals.
Some plants cause reactions or death in humans, but do not have the same effect on animals. Some animals are deathly affected by some plants, but those plants do not hurt humans.
“Humans need to look out for poison ivy, poison oak and sumac, and don’t touch it,” said Andrew Baril, an Alabama Extension regional agent for forestry, wildlife and natural resources. “Animals don’t normally have a problem with the touching these plants, but if your dog rolls in a patch of poison ivy and you rub the dog, it will get on you.”
According to Baril, dog hair can carry the oils found in these plants.
“They can bring them into a home and the oil can get on carpets, rugs, furniture or wherever they lay,” he said. “Oils can remain potent for over a year. Therefore, dogs should be bathed after they had been seen playing in the plants.”
Unless someone is severely allergic, generally nothing will happen to a person just touching poison ivy, oak or sumac. Problems occur with these plants when someone crushes the leaves or stem and releases the oils.
“If the oil is allowed to come in contact with skin, a rash will develop for most people,” Baril said “If one does come in contact with the oils, it is best to wash the area with warm water and a mild soap. Don’t scratch the area; just lightly remove as much of the oil as possible.”
Baril said in his opinion, encountering the oils while burning the plants is worse than touching or crushing them.
“Smoke encountering the eyes and inhalation into one’s lungs is extremely painful, and could lead to hospitalization and even death,” Baril said.
He offers a few tips on how poisonous plants, and precautions to take to avoid them.
Poison ivy and poison oak have leaves with three leaflets, often with a reddish spot where the leaflets attach to the stem.
Do not burn any part of these plants. Always wear long pants and close-toed shoes when in wooded areas.
Consider application of a preventive lotion, such as Ivy Block, before going outdoors. Always wash clothes immediately upon return from walking in wooded areas.
Baril cautioned that touching a poisonous plant can be bad, but eating one can be even worse.
“If you don’t know for sure what plant you are handling, don’t ingest the plant,” he said.
Dr. Nancy Loewenstein, an Alabama Extension specialist for forestry and wildlife sciences, said there are wild plants that are edible.
“Unless you’re 100 percent sure you’ve identified a plant correctly and made sure it is edible, don’t eat any wild plants,” Loewenstein said. “Some plants have fruits that look safe to eat, but are not. A few examples are Chinaberry and the Chinese tallowtree.
Loewenstein says the fruit of Chinaberry (Melia azederach) is the most toxic part of the tree. The leaves, bark and flowers are mildly toxic, but usually cause no problems. Swine and sheep are most commonly affected by eating Chinaberry, but children also have been poisoned by eating the berries.
“All parts of the Chinese tallowtree (Triadica sebifera) plant are poisonous, especially the fruit,” Loewenstein said.
She added that while she believes not many people would be tempted to eat the seeds, eating berries from this tree can cause diarrhea, listlessness, weakness and dehydration. These symptoms may not occur until two to four days after the plant is eaten.
Alabama Extension’s publication, “Poisonous Plants of the Southeastern United States,” goes into detail about the toxicity of dozens of poisonous plants. It also lists symptoms of exposure and treatment after coming in contact with poisonous plants. You can read the full publication at www.aces.edu
There also is the publication “Touch-Me-Nots — Recognizing and Avoiding Poisonous Plants of Alabama,” that also can be found at the Extension website.
Upcoming Extension Programs
• Call the local Master Gardener Hotline — 1-877-ALA-GROW — for all of your home garden and home pest questions.
• Would you like to become a Master Gardener? The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is in the process of recruiting a Master Gardener Volunteer class for the fall. Classes will begin Aug. 2, so get your applications in now. Early registration ends July 12 with a class fee of $125. Any applications postmarked after July 26 will have a class fee of $150. Contact the Etowah County Extension Office for more details.
• The annual Etowah County Extension grassroots survey is open. Everyone is encouraged to go to www.aces.edu/etowah and take the survey to ensure that the Etowah County Extension Office is serving all people in the area with relevant programming.
• Open House for the Heifer Development Project will be held Tuesday at the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center. For more details, contact Landon Marks at 256-706-0032.
For more information on this topic and many others, contact the Etowah County Extension Office, 256-547-7936 or 3200-A W. Meighan Blvd., Gadsden. Amy Burgess is extension coordinator for the Etowah County Extension Office.