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Soon it will be time for camping, hiking and fishing in Michigan’s awesome outdoors. Even though Michigan’s Natural surroundings are relatively safe, the more knowledge you have, the safer you will be. Following are some plants that you will want to be aware of that grow in Michigan. Make sure you can identify them so that you can take the appropriate steps to get the most out of Nature.
The Urushiol Producing plants:
Poison Oak– Has groups of 3 leaves that resemble the classic oak leaf pattern. Usually it appears glossy. It is distributed throughout the U.S.
It can appear as a shrub near 13 feet tall or a viney plant wrapping around a tree trunk up to 100 feet long. If you see leaf clusters of three, Leave it alone.
Poison Sumac-Poison Sumac leaf patterns are similar to non-poisonous varieties, such as Staghorn Sumac. Though compared side by side, they are distinguishable.
The features that are very easy to recognize are the berries. Poison Sumac have white berries in sparse clusters. Non-Poisonous Sumac (by far the most common) have cone shaped clusters of red berries when ripe. Never will Poison Sumac berries turn red.
Poison Ivy-The most common of the Urushiol producing plants. Remember “Leaves of 3, leave it be” and you will be well served. Poison Ivy grows pretty much everywhere in every condition. It can grow in patches on the ground or vine up a tree. Check out this video showing Poison Ivy.
The leaves vary and can be confused with poison oak with fairly heavily lobed leaves or they can be shaped more like a birch leaf with heavy teeth. Not that it matters. Treat them both the same.
There are wide ranges of reactions to the Urushiols in these plants. Some people have walked through bare legged with no effect and other people just walk near the plants and break out from the pollen. Don’t assume that because you never have had a reaction, that you never will. It’s just not the case. An individual’s sensitivity can change without warning. Typically, outbreaks can be treated at home, but don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. The first thing you want to do if you have been exposed is wash the area with copious amounts of soap and water. Use dish soap to help cut the oil. Over the counter products are available at the pharmacy.
WARNING: Never, ever, ever burn Urushiol Poisonous Plants. NEVER!!!! This atomizes the poisons and puts it in the air for you or anyone downwind to breath in. This can cause a medical emergency condition as you have reactions to the Urushiol in your airways and lungs.
Other plants to be aware of:
Stinging Nettle-Though a very healthy and medicinally important plant, walking through Stinging Nettle can cause painful stinging rashes. Formic Acid and Histamine in the hypodermic pickers are the culprits. I don’t want you to avoid this plant because it is a great plant to harvest and use, but be aware of its stinging quality. Very rarely, people who are allergic to bee stings may also be allergic to Stinging Nettle. Again, that is very rare. The sting subsides within a relatively short time in most cases.
Cow Parsnip-Though Cow Parsnip can be harvested as a food, I shy away from it due to it’s non-edible obnoxious parts above ground. Hogweed is an evasive uncommon look alike that is much worse than Cow Parsnip, but if you avoid one, you will avoid the other. The issue is in the sap in the leaves and stems of these plants.
The chemicals are photo sensitive chemicals that lay dormant until exposed to direct sunlight when they can cause a horrible chemical burn on the skin. Hogweed is worse, but Cow Parsnip isn’t innocent.
If you have contact with either plant, wash your skin thoroughly and keep it covered. Consider a trip to the doctor if you know it was Hogweed. On a side note, if you recognize a plant to be hogweed, call the DNR. They will want to know where it is and they will destroy the plant. Don’t do it on your own. You just might regret it.
Water Hemlock-Not the Conifer Tree. Water Hemlock has been mistaken for plants such as Cow Parsnip and Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace). Though there are many poisonous plants in the United States, there are none more so than Water Hemlock.
DO NOT make the mistake of harvesting this plant. Leave it alone….period. If it needs removed for some reason, spend the money and hire a professional. One small leaf will kill you minutes. Getting the saps and residue on your hands and forgetting, wiping your eyes or putting your fingers in your mouth can be deadly. Follow this link to a very good website with descriptions of Water Hemlock.
Maybe even scarier than Water Hemlock is Poison Hemlock. It’s no more deadly than Water Hemlock, but I think it is more accessible.
Beginner Foragers could mistake (especially young shoots) with those of Wild Carrot (which Poison Hemlock is of the same family) or Yarrow.
Poison Hemlock is one of the most important reasons why 100% accuracy is vital when consuming wild plants. Mistake the young greens as Yarrow and you may have just brewed your death tea. This is no joke. Be careful. That’s the danger with beginner foragers. Sometimes you can know just enough to be dangerous.
It is why it is important to know all identifiers. Sight, feel, odor, taste and environment.
Follow this link to an excellent blog on Poison Hemlock. Visit it. Know the information.
Nature is awesome. It can provide far more benefit than discomfort, but you do need to be aware of your surroundings. At Nature’s Access, we can help you enjoy the out of doors. Contact us.
*www.nwplants.com/business/catalog/her_lan.html–Cow Parsnip pictures ** http://www.teclabsinc.com/tips-info/images-video/images/poison-plant-identification/–Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac pictures ***http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/cicuta_maculata.shtml–Water Hemlock pictures