A Guide to Summer’s Poisonous Plants

School is out, grills are uncovered and flip flops by the front door; summer is in full swing! Summer is a beautiful season for Michigan kids. With school being out for three months, kids are able to attend summer camps, play outdoor sports and run with their friends.

However, as people start to emerge from their homes after a cold winter, poisonous plants also begin to make their appearance. Here are some tips on how to identify Michigan’s poisonous plants and help protect yourself and your children so that you can avoid a bothersome rash.

According to the National Resources Conservation Service, nearly all counties in Michigan have poison ivy and poison oak, and one third of the state contains poison sumac.

(Poison Ivy Pictured)
Poison Ivy

Everyone has heard the classic saying “leaves of three let it be,” but what about the plants and trees that have three leaves but aren’t poisonous? Unlike most three leaved plants poison ivy’s two leaves, located on the sides, are not symmetrical. If you see a small shrub or vine containing three leaf clusters that are not symmetrical there’s a chance that it might be poison ivy.

(Pictured: Poison Oak)
Poison Oak

Like poison ivy, poison oak can be found in many areas. Typically this plant can look like a shrub but has the capability to grow like vine in shaded areas. Poison oak is very similar to poison ivy, this plant can have shiny leaves and also irritate the skin.

(Poison Sumac Pictured)
Poison Sumac


In the fall, poison sumac can be the most colorful plant all season but don’t be mistaken, poison sumac typically grows in swamp and bog style areas, and it can grow as a small tree or small shrub. Touching this poison plant can cause a rash worse than touching poison ivy or poison oak. According too, EarthSky poison sumac contains the most potent amount of urushiol. However, it doesn’t have the widest distribution, poison ivy currently holds that title.

If you do find yourself or your kids battling rash from one these plants the faster you work the better. Here’s a list of actions you should take at the first sight of coming into contact with a poisonous plant.

  • Wash the infected area with dish soap. Because dish soap is great at removing and breaking up oil it can work wonders on the oil left on your skin or clothes.
  • Fight the urge to scratch. Although this seems like an impossible task to accomplish when you have a rash it does work to your benefit. Scratching can raise your risk of infection and lead to harder recovery.
  • Treat the infected area. Luke warm baths, hydrocortisone cream, cold compresses and antihistamine pills can all lead up to relief until the rash has subsided.

Poisonous plants can be bothersome but by educating you and your family you can avoid a serious rash and get back to your summer.

Photo Credit: John, Alan Schmierer, Eliza Barrett, Philippe Put all via Flickr.

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