By Jennifer Alfonso
Now that sunny weather has arrived, it’s time to get out and explore. Whether you choose to do so here in Missouri, or out and about anywhere else in the United States, it is important to keep a watchful eye for poison ivy, oak and sumac.
Native to Missouri, poison ivy can climb 60 feet high, stand upright without support for more than 6 feet and stretch to great lengths on the ground’s surface, in any habitat. Most commonly identified by the known, “leaves of three, let it be,” it can also be known by the taller leaf among the two other, asymmetrical leaves. The berries are in waxy, grape-like clusters and white in color.
Unknown by most, the entire plant, not just its leaves, can create skin irritation. This occurs when the plant is bruised or damaged, wherein the plant secretes an oil called urushiol. Poison ivy is poisonous year-round, its oil can stay within clothing and footwear for up to two years, and plants which have died can remain poisonous for up to five years.
Also native to Missouri, although less common, poison oak can primarily be found around dry, open, glade habitats. It is distinctly identified with its three rounded, symmetrical notched tip leaves, resembling leaves of an oak tree. Poison oak can also be identified with its hairy berries, yellow to cream in color, hanging on stalks in a grape-like manner.
While not native to Missouri, poison sumac can be found in eastern and southern parts of the United States, within wetland habitats. Found in tree or shrub form, poison sumac can be identified by its red stems, smooth, pointed leaves and tightly bunched, hanging berries. The branches hold its leaves in pairs, like a fan, with one leaf at its top.
The United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service states that poison sumac is commonly mistaken with the staghorn sumac, identified by its saw-edged leaves and the winged sumac, by its leafy growths, which run between each leaf.
Good to know
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, while animal fur can transfer the oil to individuals, individuals whom have a reaction cannot transfer it to another individual. Contrary to belief, the ooze produced by reaction blisters does not contain the oil itself.
The Missouri Department of Conservation also states that although not 100 percent effective, washing the skin within five minutes, even in that of a nearby stream, can lessen or eliminate the chances of skin reaction. Reaction time can occur up to a week after contact and last anywhere from two to three weeks long.
When out enjoying this beautiful weather, regardless of where that may be, safeguard yourself, your children and your Soldiers from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. The best means of deterrence from contact with these plants is identification of the plant. Arm yourselves with knowledge, not only during times of spring, but all year long, and let the adventures begin.