While spending time in the great outdoors is considered good for our health there are also risks to be aware of and one of these risks is poisonous plants. If you’re packing up your AR-15 and heading out hunting, it is best to go prepared and know what to avoid.

There is no particular way to recognise a poisonous plant, it is, therefore, advisable to research toxic plants that are native to the area in which you plan to hike, and then learn to recognize these plants in the wild.

The general advice to help protect yourself is to know your plants, know which are harmful in order to avoid them. Never eat a plant or berry unless you can positively identify it as being unharmful. 

Dress properly by wearing long pants and shirts when possible, to minimize contact with your skin.  If you encounter an unknown plant which you think may be harmful, ensure you wash your hands and the clothing that you are wearing.

Don’t be tempted to burn unknown plants as the smoke could contain poisonous compounds and inhaling the fumes could be very hazardous to your health.

Some plants which affect your skin plants are known to cause rashes, itching and swelling when coming into contact with them are:

  • Poison Ivy – is widespread and can be found almost everywhere in the US except Hawaii, Alaska and parts of the southwestern deserts.
  • Poison Sumac – usually grows as a tree in swampy areas and can be anything from five to twenty ft in height. This can be found in the eastern and southern United States.
  • Wild Parsnip is found throughout North America and is a member of the parsley family. This can grow up to 5ft tall and can be found in many different habitats in fields, or by the roadside. The sap from this plant makes a person’s skin more sensitive to sunlight and they often don’t realize they have been in contact with the plant until breaking out in a blistering rash after spending a short time in the sun.
  • Giant Hogweed – as its name suggests can grow up to 14ft in height and 5ft in width and contact with the sap from this plant can cause blisters, burns and even scarring. The plant can be found in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregan, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Some poisonous plants will affect and irritate your digestive tract, cause vomiting, nausea, swelling of the gastrointestinal tract amongst other similar symptoms.

The Manchineel is regarded as the most dangerous tree in the world because of the strong toxin found in almost every part of the tree. The acidic sap can cause blisters on the skin and blindness if it gets in your eyes.

A bite of the small greenish-yellow fruit can be fatal, and the smoke from the burning branches and leaves can damage the eyes and lungs. This tropical tree is native to Florida and is called the beech apple as it resembles an apple, it is found along the

coast and in saltwater swamps.

The Castor Bean – has beans which contain ricin which is one of the most toxic naturally occurring substances known to man.  The oil is used medicinally but only because the ricin toxin is removed during processing.

If eaten raw even a single ounce of the castor bean seed can be fatal.  Native to Africa the plant was introduced to North America and can be found in eastern and southern parts of the US growing in disturbed areas along river beds or at the edge of a field.

Jack-in-the-pulpit – has a flower that is only 3-4 inches tall, with a tubular base.  It is found in moist woodland areas in North America and contains a calcium oxalate toxin that is found primarily in the roots.  It is safe to touch the plant, but don’t eat any part of it. 

There are a group of poisonous plants which are considered more severe as they can attack your nervous system causing hallucinations, seizure and even paralysis.  

Angel’s trumpet is one such plant and it is commonly used as an ornamental plant throughout the US and it is therefore unlikely that you would find it in the wild. Though beautiful to look at if ingested would prove fatal.

Deadly Nightshade – this plant produces a cherry-like fruit which turns a shiny black colour when ripened.  It is a rare plant but can be found in southern and eastern US.

Larkspur – belongs to the buttercup family but grows in tall spikes up to 5ft and has a raceme of flowers which start at the base of the stem and extend to the top.  After blooming the flowers turn into seed pods. The plant is found mostly in western and southern United States in moist soil and in both low and high elevation.

Plants which affect the heart are must-avoid plants due to the seriousness of their effects, such as cardiac arrest or other heart conditions that could affect you or threaten your life.

The White Baneberry (Doll’s Eye) is one such plant and once you learn what it is you will never forget.  The plant has a red stalk and its striking white berries are easy to identify in the wild.  The berries are considered creepy looking and eating them can cause cardiac arrest and death. This plant is located in eastern North America.

Monkshood – is a poisonous plant but as it has such an unpleasant taste accidental poisoning is rare.  The distinctive purple-blue or white flowers are arranged in spike- like clusters.  This plant can be found in gardens as well as in the wild in the mountainous regions of the United States.

Oleander – this is a small hardy shrub with long slender leathery leaves dark green in colour.  When it blooms oleander has a very showy funnel-shaped flower which is why it is often planted on roadsides.

The flowers grow single or pairs and are bright in colour, white, yellow, pink or red.  All parts of the plant are highly toxic and should not be ingested and can be found in the southern states and the west coast.

It is important to remember that if you come into contact with a poisonous plant you should immediately wash the skin. Rinse the area for at least 5 minutes if possible.  Use rubbing alcohol or detergent if you have them.

After cleansing the area watch for signs of poisoning such as a red rash or patches of blisters, itching and swelling. If these symptoms appear, use a wet compress, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream on unbroken skin.

If you are still experiencing problems seek immediate help or head to the nearest emergency medical centre.

Hikers should always keep a list of emergency contacts on their phones or in their backpacks.

Further Reading

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