How to Avoid Poisonous Plants

July 22, 2017

When you’re outdoors, follow one simple rule: Keep your hands to yourself! Unless you are 100 percent certain of what that plant is, leave it alone. Ingesting the wrong plant can put your life in serious jeopardy at worst, or leave you hunched over in the outhouse at best. And nobody needs that. Some plants, like mushrooms, are super hard to identify for sure, and poisonous varieties can cause everything from the dreaded gastrointestinal distress to sudden – and probably painful – death. Learn how to identify the five biggest threats you may face while hiking, backpacking, or working in your yard.


This poisonous superstar was made famous as Socrates’ chosen method of execution when he was given the choice to deny his ideas or die. While it reportedly spread a numbing sensation throughout his limbs, this is no gentle goodnight. Also known as poison parsley, this plant’s telltale features include its musty odor and its blotchy purple stem. It can grow up to 10 feet tall, and it commonly has foliage that looks like fern leaves. If you ingest hemlock it can cause nausea, vomiting, burning sensation in your mouth, paralyzed muscles, respiratory distress, and even death. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately in case of ingestion.

Stinging Nettles

As deadly as hemlock might be, stinging nettles are a more annoying threat for hiking and backpacking enthusiasts. As soon as your skin touches this plant, you’ll feel itching, pain and irritation that’ll probably eclipse your last argument with your significant other. This herbaceous shrub has heart-shaped leaves, weak stems, and brittle stinging hairs. If you touch stinging nettle, wash the affected skin as soon as possible with plenty of soap and water.

Poison Ivy

Leaves of three, let them be! Many seasoned outdoor enthusiasts who grew up with this saying can tell you that it helps you avoid this nuisance plant that typically causes itching, rashes, and blistering. Poison ivy typically grows in wooded areas, open fields, or as ground cover. It may grow as a vine, underbrush, or a shrub with main identifying characteristics that include clusters of three oval-shaped leaflets and reddish hairs on the vine. Poison ivy can grow as a four-to-10-inch ground cover, or as a shrub up to four feet tall.

Poison Sumac

This plant belongs to the poison ivy family, but it is significantly larger. Poison sumac grows five to 20 feet tall. Identifying characteristics include nine to 13 leaflets connected by a red stem. Topical contact causes swelling, redness, itching, and rashes; much like the reaction caused by poison ivy. Simply put, if you come in contact with it, you’ll probably spend some time covered in calamine.

Poison Oak

These plants grow over a wide swatch of the U.S., typically in forests, thickets, and dry fields. Identifying characteristics include leaves with three to five lobes and a scalloped edge. Fuzzy looking fruit and wrinkled leaves are other common features. Poison oak causes poison ivy-like symptoms such as redness, inflammation, itching, and blisters.


This popular Christmas decoration features pointy leaves and bright red berries, gray-brown bark, and a horizontal branching structure. This shrub can grow up to 15 to 30 feet tall. The leaves aren’t dangerous but the berries are toxic, especially if they’re eaten in large quantities. Eating holly berries can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression of the central nervous system. So skip the berries, stick with your Rip It energy boost instead.

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