Poison ivy or other poisonous plants on the forest floor
Healthy Living

Mom Knows Best: Avoid Poisonous Plants

Jun 7 2019

Dave Schottelkotte, a Mercy Health employee, shares some of his mother’s wisdom with us when it comes to poisonous plants. These poisonous plant proofs are confirmed by Mercy Health expert Kim Murray, PA-C.

Dave and his mom discuss poisonous plants while working in the garden

My 86-year-old Mom was on a mission – remove the dead grass and plants from the garden and make it easier for those flowers to bloom.

“Are you wearing gloves?” I asked with some mild concern, and her response did not surprise me.

“I am,” she said. “It’s never too early to start thinking about those hidden dangers lurking in the weeds.”

Now I was concerned. What dangers was she talking about? Maybe some snakes in the grass, or bugs waiting to bite. Maybe she was referring to spending too much time in the sun! I wasn’t even close.

“You have to watch out for those poisonous plants,” she said. “Poison oak, poison sumac, poison ivy. The most direct way to get it is by touching any part of the plant.”

That seemed pretty obvious to me – it was also obvious that Mom was now on a roll.

“But you can get it other ways too,” she said. “If you touch anything that has been exposed to the plant – a gardening tool, sports equipment, even a pet’s fur – you can get a rash.”

“And don’t think you can avoid it by burning the plants,” she continued, almost scolding me before I could respond. “The poison gets released in the air and can land on your skin.”

I was glad that Mom was taking precautions and didn’t realize she knew so much about poisonous plants! I thought I’d better do a little research on my own to increase my odds of avoiding poison ivy, oak, or sumac rashes this year – and show Mom that I had listened to her.

Here’s a brief summary of what Dave learned about poisonous plants in research and talks with Mercy Health Physician Assistant Kim Murray:

Know how to identify poison ivy, oak and sumac. The plants come in many forms, from vines to bushes, and can spread rapidly to new areas

What poison oak looks like:

Each leaf has 3 small leaflets. This plant grows as a vine in the western United States. In other regions, it grows as a shrub.  It may or may not have yellow-white berries.

 What poison sumac looks like:

There are usually 7 to 13 leaflets, paired in a row, on each leaf. It can grow in standing water, as a tall shrub, or a small tree. Often, the leaves have spots that look like blotches of black paint. These spots are urushiol, which when exposed to air turn brownish black. Before urushiol hits the air, it is clear or a pale yellow.

 What poison ivy looks like:

Poison ivy has leaves that grow in groups of three; “leaves of three, leave them be!”  Poison ivy leaves are pointed at the tip. It is usually green in the spring and reddish-orange in the fall. Poison ivy grows as both a vine and as a shrub. It flowers with small clusters of white berries in the spring that last throughout the winter

poisonous plants identification

Treatment starts with rinsing off with soap and cool water.  If you believe you were in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the poisonous oil. If not washed off, the oil can spread from person to person and to other areas of your body.

  • Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface with warm, soapy water. Besides clothing, the poisonous oil can remain on many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs and pet leashes.
  • Use plastic or heavy shopping bags to pull the poisonous plants from the soil, replacing the bags with the pulling of each plant. Cover arms with plastic bags or long sleeves for additional protection during the removal process. Even dead or dying plants can contain the poisonous oil.
  • Get to the root: remove any lingering shoots or seedlings with white vinegar.
  • Cover up: When gardening or in outdoor areas that might have poison ivy, keep skin as covered as possible to avoid any potential contact. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.


Information confirmed by Kim Murray, PA-C, Bon Secours Mercy Health.


Related Posts

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Please review our Terms of Use before commenting.