In order to avoid losing their leaves to herbivores, plants have devised a variety of clever tactics. Several of these chemical defenses, unfortunately, can induce painful skin reactions in people. Read on to learn about some of the plants that might cause irritation and even burns.
If you live in eastern North America, you’re probably aware of poison ivy’s iconic “three leaves.” Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), and poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) all contain the chemical urushiol.
When touched, nearly all portions of these plants can cause contact dermatitis, a severe, itchy, and painful skin inflammation. Even scarier, urushiol can remain on clothing, shoes, equipment, soil, or animals that have come into touch with the plants, poisoning an unsuspecting victim.
If you’ve been hiking through underbrush areas containing these plants, make sure to remove your clothing so that the exterior doesn’t touch your skin and wash it right away. The rash can continue anywhere from one week to three weeks and normally does not require medical attention.