Poison ivy grows all over United States and is most prevalent in wooded areas, and less likely in Hawaii, Alaska, and desert areas of the Southwest. The clusters of three leaves can appear red in the spring, deeper green in the summertime, and will stick around into late fall until winter causes the leaves to fall off. The plant is poisonous to the touch and can cause itching, redness, and swelling. Because poison ivy can grow as a vine and as a shrub, sometimes contact with this irritating plant can go unnoticed until symptoms arise on exposed areas of the skin. Topical treatment can be found in most drug stores and can easily be carried in a day pack on a camping trip. Minor irritation can be tolerated but serious cases and exposure to the face can potentially be trip-ending.
Poison oak grows most prevalently along the western coast of the United States and thrives in wooded areas from sea level to 5000-feet elevation. You can identify them by the small cluster of three leaves with lobed edges. They appear dark green during spring and summer and reddish during the autumn. Contact from the leaves or stems with the skin causes irritation and blisters, which appears one to six days after contact. Camping areas are most susceptible to heavy growth because poison oak thrives in uncultivated areas and clearings. Watch out for poison oak year-round and be mindful that the toxin can cling to clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags, etc. After exposure, the best remedy is to immediately wash the affected area with rubbing alcohol. This may not completely treat your encounter with poison oak but will slow the release of toxins into the skin.
Poison sumac is another in the poison ivy family that grows as a small tree in wetland areas. Poison sumac, notable for its red stems and pattern of 13 smooth-edge leaves, is primarily found in the the eastern and southeastern States. It grows in wet, marshy, and boggy environments. Contact with the skin will result in a red rash and irritation. Immediately after contact, wash off the affected area within 30 minutes with cool water. Using soap and warm water can spread the toxin by opening skin pores. Poison Sumac arrives in spring with orange leaves that turns dark green in the and eventually change to red in the fall. Exposure at any time can cause irritation to the skin. Topical treatments like calamine lotion will relieve the symptoms and antihistamines can also serve as an easy remedy.
A less common but equally dangerous plant to avoid while camping is Mistletoe. Eating the berries of this plant can cause extreme poisoning, blurred vision, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Mistletoe grows as a parasite on trees and forms large webs of stems and berries. Mistletoe prefers to grow in hardwood forests and can be spotted by white flowers and later small white or red round berries. Consult a doctor if you feel that a child had mistakenly eaten mistletoe berries. There is no quick treatment, and the effects from digestion could be very uncomfortable.
Stinging nettles are a hiker’s most annoying threat as contact with the skin is immediately painful, itchy, and irritating. It grows all over the world as an herbaceous shrub. The heart shaped leaves contain tiny needles on their undersides and are a sure indicator to avoid contact. The poison can cause a rash to the skin that can be relieved with topical ointments. Keep a look out for stinging nettles during spring, summer, and fall in all wooded areas.