Poison Ivy / Poison Sumac

While I sit here suffering from another almost weekly bout with poison ivy (it seems to alternate with poison sumac), it seems the perfect opportunity to talk about these rash-causing plants.

The rash is caused by an oily substance called urushiol.  The rash it causes is actually “contact dermatitis”.  Besides poison ivy and sumac, which are quite common not only in Cape May County NJ but throughout the US, poison oak which is more frequent in the western US shares the same traits and effects.  Pictured is poison ivy (top) and poison sumac.

Poison ivy/sumac/oak is spread from the plant to you by you touching the leaves, stems, berries, flowers or roots of the plant.  It can also be contracted by you touching anything that came in contact with the urushiol of the plant such as gloves, clothes, tools, or even your pet.  Contrary to popular misconceptions, once you first wash the affected area, it cannot be spread to another person.  And you can’t get it by touching the blister fluid.

The rash you get is an allergic reaction to the urushiol.  Symptoms are redness where the plant touched you, along with itchiness of that area.  It often develops into small bumps or larger raised areas that may follow by turning into blisters that will leak fluid when scratched.  The rash usually takes 24-48 hours to appear after contact, than can last 10 days before clearing up.  No wonder just when I think my poison ivy is gone, up pops poison sumac!

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