Working in your yard this summer? These four plants could ruin your fun

Written by Gene Caballero on April 15, 2017

Have you ever had an uncontrollable itch that wouldn’t go away? Did that itch turn into a huge rash that spread over the skin like wildfire? These common symptoms can emerge within hours if the skin comes in contact with either poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and/or wild parsnips while working in your yard. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (ADA), over 85% of the world’s population is allergic to these poisonous, wild summer weeds and can be potentially more dangerous during this time of year because individuals are spending more time cutting grass in Lawrenceville, Georgia or mowing lawns in Riverview, Florida—increasing the risk of exposure.

While avoidance to these plants is the best practice to eliminate the chances of contact, how do you know what they look like and how do you know what to do if you are infected? Below is a quick roundup of these greens to help you identify these sometimes camouflaged plants and also some simple common steps to follow if your skin becomes contaminated.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy—This skin irritant can grow throughout the United States—except in Alaska and Hawaii—as a vine or a shrub trailing along the ground or climbing on low plants, trees, and even poles. Each leaf carries three glossy leaflets with smooth or toothed edges. The leaves are reddish in spring, green in summer, and yellow/orange in the fall. Some of these plants may even have greenish-white flowers and whitish-yellow berries attached. If you come into contact with this species and a rash or blister forms, make sure not to scratch and use wet compresses or soak yourself in cold water as soon as possible. Also, try an over the counter (OTC) topical corticosteroid, like calamine lotion, to apply to the irritation.

Poison oak

Poison Oak—This poisonous plant grows in the Eastern and Southern United States as a low shrub and as a long vine. The leaves are fuzzy green in nature and grow in clusters of three with leaves that are lobed and toothed with rounded tips. Some of these plants may have yellow or white berries attached to the leaves. If you come into contact with Poison Oak, follow the same protocol as with Poison Ivy.


Poison Sumac—Unlike the other two poisons, this plant is commonly found in bogs or swamps in the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the Southern United States. Sumac grows as a small tree and can even resemble a tall shrub. Each leaf has clusters of seven to thirteen smoothed-edged leaflets. Just like Poison ivy, these leaves are orange in the spring, green in the summer and yellow/orange in the fall. Yellow-greenish flowers or whitish-green fruit sometimes hang loose in their leaf clusters. Any irritation caused by Sumac can be contained by washing the exposed area with soap and water and treating the skin with an OTC corticosteroid—the same actions as with Oak and Ivy.

Wild Parsnips

Wild parsnips—This perennial plant is common in the Northern United States and southern Canada regions. It grows in dry areas such as roadsides, pastures, and inhabited fields—any place where the soil has been disturbed and native vegetation has yet to become fully established. The stems produce a rosette of pinnate leaflets arranged around the stalk—usually arranged in pairs with saw toothed margins. When fully sprouted, each wild parsnip produces hundreds of small yellow flowers that bloom in the summer. The flowers consist of five yellow petals curved inwards. If you come in contact with this plant, immediately cover the infected area to prevent exposure to the sun. Wash the infected area with water and mild soap and apply with a topical corticosteroid; however if blisters persist, immediately see a physician.

With the summer months fast approaching, homeowners will turn their attention to tackling their gardening needs. Due to the abundance of these poisonous plants, green-thumbers can unwillingly find themselves in the middle of patch and be instantly contaminated. By checking your surroundings and identifying these harmful weeds, you can ensure that you are not in the “thick” of an itchy situation. 

Hi, I'm Gene Caballero and I'm the co-founder of GreenPal . At GreenPal, we're helping hundreds of thousands of Americans solve one of the trickiest problems: a reliable, fast, and affordable way to get lawncare taken care of. On behalf of GreenPal, I've been featured in the Indianapolis Star, the Sacramento Bee, Entrepreneur,, and dozens more. Please feel free to say hi on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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