(A giant Hogweed plant)
Some information in this article was provided by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.
Poisonous plants can be more troublesome than the beauty they hide behind. Most can cause many health issues that are painful with long-term effects. I speak from personal experience when my case of poison ivy turned into Necrotizing fasciitis (or commonly known as flesh-eating disease) on my legs. I am now susceptible to a form of flesh-eating called meaney’s ulcers (that many diabetics also suffer from) – and they are mean when they raise their ugly head.
Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, wild parsnip and giant hogweed all have a presence in Eastern Ontario, lining roadside ditches, taking over empty fields and popping up along nature trails and woodlots.
Touching these plants or their sap can result in painful skin rashes and burns, particularly wild parsnip, which is sun-activated and can cause severe burns and even blindness in extreme cases.
Wear long pants and sleeves, close-toed shoes and socks. The sap from these plants can contaminate your clothes, so be careful when undressing and handling your clothes after an outing.
If you do come in contact with the plants, wash the area with soapy water and stay out of the sun. If the sap gets in your eyes, wash immediately and contact a doctor.
Of course, it’s important to know what to look for so you can avoid these issues altogether.
Poison ivy can grow between 10 and 80 centimetres high, and its leaves range from 8 to 55 millimetres long. Poison ivy leaves feature three pointed leaflets – usually toothed – with the middle leaf being much longer. The leaves are reddish in the spring, turn green in the summer, and become various shades of yellow, orange, or red in the fall. The plant produces clusters of cream to yellow-green flowers. Remember: Leaves of three, Let it be!
Poison oak looks similar, but the leaves are larger and more rounded like an oak leaf. They have a textured, hairy surface. There may be groups of three, five, or seven leaves.
Poison sumac leaves grow in clusters of seven to 13 leaves, with one by itself at the end.
(L to R: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac)
Wild parsnip can grow up to 1.5 metres tall, with a thick, smooth stem topped with green-yellow flowers forming clusters up to 20 centimetres across.
Giant hogweed looks similar to wild parsnip but grows up to five metres tall in some cases. Its white flowers are clustered in groups between 30 and 90 centimetres across, and its thick stem often features prominent purple blotches.
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