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Poison Oak

Poison Oak Characteristics

You and your girlfriend have finally done it – you’ve gotten away for a hike all by yourselves. You’ve been wanting to get out of town, up to the mountains and get some fresh air and relaxation. This is a great hike, so you’ve seen on the Internet. It winds up a gradual climb until it ends at a beautiful waterfall, and a picnic for the two of you. Sounds great, but along the way something happens. You round a bend in the trail and trip over a rock. As you fall, your hand reaches out to a nearby tree to break your fall. You manage to stop yourself from looking foolish and continue down the trail. But within a minute or two, your hand is on fire, itching and burning and breaking out into a rash. You’ve stumbled upon dreaded poison oak, one of many poison plants that you need to avoid when camping and hiking.

What Causes Poison Oak Rash

This bushy shrub can also take the form of a leafy vine, in which case it actually grows on a large tree and makes its way upwards. Its leaves are coated with a poisonous oily substance called urushiol. Urushiol is the same toxin that causes the reaction with poison ivy and 4 out of 5 people have an immediate reaction to it. The inflamed skin that results is known as contact dermatitis (a fancy way of saying it hurts like hell and itches too), but it happens because your immune system is trying to fight off the invader.

How To Identify Poison Oak Plants

Learning to recognize the poison oak plant is difficult by the different forms it takes, and different phases it goes through. It can be a shrub standing alone in a meadow, or a climbing vine wrapped around a tree. It can be green and laden with berries, or a beautiful red color in the fall. The best way to recognize the plant is to learn its leaf shape and configuration ( link to Google images search for poison oak). And it will help to remember to avoid flora with 3 leaves on a stem – better safe than sorry. Oh, and the picnic? You should probably postpone it – it’ll take a few days of calamine lotion and benadryl before you’ll feel like hiking again.