If you are an outdoor person and love to go on hikes and little adventures, you probably know the golden rule- “Do not touch anything!” Be it an insect, an unknown object, or even beautiful leaves. As harmless as plants are, they too have a defense mechanism. To protect themselves from being trampled on, eaten, or plucked, they release chemicals that can irritate your skin and give you blisters. Now imagine going for a nice walk amid nature and getting stung by a plant. They can cause rashes, inflammation, or trigger severe allergic reactions. To avoid such unfortunate events, we at Stylecraze made a list of some common outdoor plants you may encounter on a field trip. The pictures will help you identify the leaves and keep you safe on your next jungle hike.
1. Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy is one of the best-known itchy plants. They are wild climbers, and you are likely to encounter them first on a forest hike. They are actually pretty leaves, but you have good reasons to not touch them once you spot them. They contain a chemical called urushiol, which causes a notorious rash (1). It is not just the leaves; even touching the vine, flowers, roots, and berries can keep your skin itching for weeks. If you are walking in the wild and see skin patches getting red and blisters, you have probably contracted the plant. Applying a solid corticosteroid skin ointment can help reduce inflammation. If you are sensitive to allergies, you may want to contact your doctor as soon as the allergy is spotted.
2. Poison Oak
For one thing, poison oak has nothing to do with oak trees, so if you are looking for a steady oak tree, the poison oak is just a tiny plant. The mature leaves somewhat resemble the oak leaves. In fact, the leaves look like any other common wild plant, so you can tell the difference from it’s berries. The berries are fuzzy, which makes sure you stay away from them naturally. The plant also contains urushiol and can give you a rash if contacted. Make sure you stay clear of shrubs that have leaves like the poison oak.
3. Poison Sumac
Are you planning a picnic date or a dip in your nearby pond with friends? If you are a risk-taker, you would probably go all out, but there are plenty of dangers when it comes to the shore. The level of urushiol in poison sumac is the same as poison ivy and poison oak. It grows as a small shrub near ponds and lakes in almost every kind of environment. So, whichever place you go to take in a bit of nature, watch out for this plant that is enough to give you a bad rash or worse if you have sensitive skin. The red stem and branches make it easily recognizable. Although pretty to look at, do not touch the leaves, stems, or flowers of the plant.
4. Wood Nettle
At first glance, it might look like a pudina leaf or random herbs from your garden’s hedge, but it stings immensely if you brush through it. The effect is not long-lasting, but it can cause a bigger issue if you have very dry skin, leading to bleeding from a single scratch. Wood nettle grows in large and dense patches and hosts several species of insects and butterflies. The shrubs are 2-4 feet in height and are covered in white hair. They sting when you walk into them. The good thing is, the sting reduces within an hour, and you can help yourself by washing the area with soap and water. Wood nettle is used as an ingredient for sautéing soups, and hence it needs to be plucked carefully to avoid rashes.
5. Stinging Nettle
A close relative of wood nettle, the stinging nettle has less dense branches. The stems can be purple or green and may not have hairs on them. But that does not mean it’s safe to meddle with the plant. Contacting the leaves can cause a sharp and painful sting followed by a burning sensation. However, if plucked the right way, it has excellent medicinal values. It has been used by locals in tea to cure joint pain, anemia, and gout pain (2).
6. Baby’s Breath
If you have ever ordered a bouquet from a florist, you must have got these wrapped in the roses. These little flowers look great in decoration, showing perfect synergy, but they can be an instant trigger for people who have irritable sinuses. Baby’s breath is not an instant irritant, but when they dry out, it can trigger your sinus, eyes, nose, and skin. It can also cause asthma for people who are in regular contact with flowers (3). This applies to many florists who spend a majority of the day rearranging and sorting flowers. If you love smelling flowers whether it’s a park or your morning walk session in the garden, be careful of this unpredictable trigger.
The tropical shrub can be grown by gardeners to cover grounds. They are pretty to look at and make unique mats for ornamental gardens. It has shiny leaves that turn red in autumn and blue flowers that bloom in early spring. However, touching the leaves and flowers can cause skin irritation and redness. If you have to use the flowers for decoration, wear gloves and use garden tools.
Ragweed is an expert in causing hay fever and seasonal allergies (4). It can also result in a rash in people who inhale the pollen. The most common symptoms are swollen eyelids and itchy streaks on the skin. If you get allergic rhinitis because of ragweed, it hinders a night of sound sleep and causes obstruction in your productivity.
9. Giant Hogweed
The sap of the giant hogweed can cause eye and skin irritation. The rashes often look like second-degree burns and leave long-lasting scars. The burns are also sensitive to light. The sap is phototoxic and if you come in contact with the plant, keep the area out of UV light for at least forty-eight hours. Washing it with cold water will get rid of the striking pain.
Cedar has a name for causing fever, but it actually triggers allergic reactions that cause a rise in body temperature. Cedar fever includes itchy eyes, runny nose, and sinus pressure. The allergy usually happens during spring when the spores are in the air.
If you are fighting a mid-winter allergic reaction, it is likely elm pollen. They affect your lungs and cause asthma-like symptoms like wheezing, sinus pain, and redness (5). If you walk past a tree during summers, you should put your surgical mask on.
So these were the plants that usually cause rashes and allergies. Even though a walk in the forest is good for your health and lungs, you should be careful not to do that directly under a tree. Make sure you do some research before setting out for an adventure and avoid any potential skin rash and ruin your enjoyment plans. Hope this will be useful the next time you go hiking! Have fun.
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- Urtica spp.: Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Properties
- Occupational asthma in a florist caused by the dried plant baby’s breath
- Ragweed allergy immunotherapy tablet MK-3641 (Ragwitek®) for the treatment of allergic rhinitis
- Rhinosinusitis and asthma: the missing link