Poison Sumac Plants

The poison sumac plant is a single species in the toxicodendron genus, which is a member of the anacardiaceae family. The poison sumac, which may be either a small tree or shrub, is considered relatively rare in comparison to other pernicious plants – such as ivy or oak – and can be seen blossoming almost exclusively in the wetlands of North America. These woody perennials are rather small, growing an average of 5 to 6 feet in height – though they sometimes grow as tall as 25 feet. Their foliage is generally smooth, their stems red, and their leaves may be ovate, undulate, wedge-shaped, oblong or tapering. Poison sumacs also bear small, inconspicuous clusters of yellow-green flowers, which eventually develop into drooping, dusty white berries.

The poison sumac plant is thought to be one of the most poisonous plants the United States. Every part of these small shrubs – save for the pollen – contain an oily sap called urushiol, a toxic allergen that can cause urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. This form of dermatitis is relatively long-lasting, and appears in the form of red, swollen eruptions and skin streaking; if the poison sumac is burnt, it may also cause a severe reaction in the lungs. Many people confuse the poisonous variety with its non-harmful cousins, such as staghorn or fragrant sumac; fortunately, there are several characteristics that can help in separating the toxic from the harmless. For instance, the berries of the poison sumac plant are low-hanging and a greyish white in hue, while the non-toxic varieties are bright red, and grow in an upright manner; harmless plants prefer dry air and well-drained soil, while the poisonous plants are commonly seen growing in peat bogs and swamps. Over time, a good deal of fiction and folklore has sprung up about this itchy little shrub. Some of the best stories state that a person might develop a rash by simply seeing the plant, being around it, or coming into contact with someone who already has a poison sumac rash; others state that you can become infected, and that the poison can lay dormant under the skin, only to pop up during the warmer months. Thankfully, these tales are simply myths; you can only develop a reaction if you come directly into contact with the poison sumac plant.

Poison sumacs are not particularly known for their symbolism; however, it is easy to identify them with discomfort, or even distrust. Although these plants are quite lovely in appearance, they make for very unsuitable gifts.

Poison Sumac Plant Pictures

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  1. Hi!
    I came across your site while on a Google search for information. Hee! I could not for the life of me figure out why I had ‘Poison Ivy’- I am 53 and simply have never had it! I recently removed some of those quick-growing small wild sumac trees from the edge of our yard, where we have some small shrubs planted back here against the woods. It’s extremely wet here in this part of The North American Appalachians- we fight all forms of mold, incects, what have you but Poison Sumac simply never occured to me until these awful red rash mad my life miserable-Good Grief! I matched the photos and the information and have been having a good laugh at myself through the Calamine lotion- if anyone had seen me standing in the midst of this stuff, ripping, sawing and tearing! It had become entangled in some vines also, so was tough to remove-we had a good old tussle for an hour or so! I SHOULD be absolutely polluted with the stuff, so it’s possible my apparent immunity to Poison Ivy has kept the worst at bay. As it is, these deep red patches and assorted red dots are pretty bad, sting and hurt more than itch.Three LARGE ones, and a ton of scattere dots on the legs ( wore shorts, like an idiot ), only a few insults to the arms, oddly, nothing on the hands!

    Thanks very much for the site, and the information. I will take some photos, since a did have to leave one of the little trees intact due to running out of gardening time the other day, thank goodness! Hopefully will be back and upload something another time.

    Annie

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