Protect Yourself From Poisonous Plants This Summer

Warm weather and sunshine mean one thing—it’s time to head outdoors! Whether you’re spending time in the woods, the garden, or by the lake this summer, remember to watch out for poisonous plants!

If you have children, remind them to be careful of the plants they bring inside. Although we don’t often chow down on flowers, your dog or cat might, and many plants can be poisonous to pets. The list of potentially harmful plants and flowers is long, but here are a few common ones you might see this summer.


Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Poison ivy grows all across the United States, while poison oak and poison sumac are more common along the West Coast and in swampy areas of the East Coast, respectively. Remember this maxim for poison ivy and oak: “Leaves of three, let it be.” Poison sumac, on the other hand, can be spotted by its grayish-white berries.

All three plants contain urushiol, an oil that makes you itchy when it gets on your skin. You may also experience redness, swelling, and even blisters, depending on how severe your reaction is. Be careful not to burn these plants in a campfire, as the vaporized oil can harm your lungs.

If you have a reaction, you can treat it with oatmeal, baking soda, or over-the-counter creams. Take treatments with you when you go camping or hiking. If you have a severe reaction, you should see a doctor. You’ll need to go to the emergency room if the reaction is around your eyes or is limiting your ability to breathe comfortably.


Giant Hogweed

This weed can grow 14 feet high and is topped with pretty white flowers reminiscent of Queen Anne’s lace, though Queen Anne’s lace has a maximum height of four feet. It was introduced to the United States in the early 20th century as an ornamental garden plant; however, this plant is noxious and dangerous, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Touching it can burn, scar, and even cause blindness. Wash your hands immediately if you come in contact with giant hogweed. Its eastern range runs from New England to Indiana. It can also be found in the Pacific Northwest.


Poisonous Flowers

Most flowers must be ingested to harm humans or animals, but some secrete oils that can cause a reaction if they touch your eyes or your mouth. Take care with these plants, especially if you have flower-eating cats, dogs (or kids) in the house:

  • Azaleas
  • Amaryllis
  • Oleander
  • Foxglove
  • Daffodils


How to Stay Safe

Learning to spot poisonous plants is one of the best ways to stay safe this summer. But when you’re hiking or gardening, you may not be able to avoid all contact! Taking a few simple precautions can help keep your family safe.

  • Wear gloves while gardening to avoid spreading poisonous sap to your eyes or accidentally ingesting it.
  • Wear pants and long sleeves when spending time in areas of dense vegetation.
  • Wash your hands after playing outside or touching plants and trees.
  • Research houseplants and floral arrangements before bringing them into your home.


Most plants are harmless or only cause mild discomfort from contact. However, if you’re worried that you or a loved one has been exposed to a poisonous plant, call Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222.

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