The troublesome trio: Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
Summer has arrived and adventure is calling. The allure of the sultry sun and the calming blue skies beckon us to the outdoors. It is time for long treks in shaded woods, scenic strolls, and camping trips in mystical forests. Nature lovers are out and about, basking in the sun and ‘forest bathing’. Life feels dreamy; then, seemingly out of nowhere you begin to feel itchy. Just two days after a hike in the woods, you develop an unbearably itchy rash. In desperation for relief you begin to scratch yourself incessantly. It then dawns on you that you have been smitten by the “poison ivy cupid.” Unfortunately, this is more frustrating than flattering.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are three different plants that belong to the same family, known as anacardiaceae. These plants all produce urushiol, the skin-irritating oil found in their leaves, stems, and roots. When you brush against any part of the plant, or touch something that is contaminated by urushiol (i.e. clothing, gardening tools, pets, etc.), this causes contact dermatitis. Our skin is so exquisitely sensitive to urushiol that all it takes is one toxic touch to wreak havoc on our skin.
Symptoms of exposure to poison ivy range from mild to severe and include: redness, itching, painful swelling, oozing and blistering skin (and labored breathing, if you have inhaled smoke from burning poison ivy, oak, or sumac). In very rare cases, exposure to these noxious plants can cause anaphylactic shock.
To help avoid these pesky plants, it is important to know where they grow and how to identify them. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are often found in wooded or swampy areas throughout North America. Poison ivy and oak can either grow as a single plant, a ropey vine, or a shrub. Poison sumac, however, always grows in the form of a bush or tree.
Poison ivy and poison oak look pretty similar, as they both grow in bunches of three leaflets; but if you take a good look, you will find that poison ivy leaves are almond shaped and pointed at the tip, and poison oak leaves are lobed and rounded. Poison sumac leaves are the odd one out, growing in a cluster of 5 to 13 leaflets with a bright red stem––a striking feature and perhaps whisper of warning from nature. I hope you stay away from these party spoilers.
Feel free to check out our poison ivy/oak/sumac relief soap bar here.
Stay safe, healthy, and happy!
More information on poison oak by US region can be found on the USDA's website (click here)