Urushiol Oil is Potent
When the Japanese restored the gold leaf on the golden Temple in Kyoto, they painted the urushiol lacquer on it to preserve and maintain the gold. Guess you could say that you would be caught red handed if you stole it.
Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Myths vs. Facts
W hen exploring the woods and fields of the Great Plains, a curious naturalist will usually be on the lookout for dangerous animals such as skunks or venomous snakes, but might not give any thought to the possibility of encountering a dangerous plant. Of course, plants cannot "attack" a person, but some plants can cause harm if they are touched. One plant that should definitely be avoided is Poison Ivy, and that can be a real challenge because it grows in different forms, does not have a consistent leaf shape and there are some plants in the same habitat that look like it!
Poison Ivy is a woody vine or sub-shrub that has a very wide distribution. It may be found coast to coast from southern Canada to Mexico. It is also known from the West Indies and China. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae, or Cashew, family. Most members of this plant family have a tropical or sub-tropical distribution. In North America, it is represented by the Sumacs (Rhus sp.), Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac and the Florida Poison Tree (Metopium toxiferum).
Poison Ivy is a nuisance because it contains a chemical that can cause the skin of persons sensitive to it to develop a red, itchy rash and even erupt in blisters. Urushiol is the active ingredient in Poison Ivy that causes the rash and irritation. It is present in all parts of the plant, but particularly in the sap. People vary in their sensitivity to urushiol. Some have no problem with it and others experience severe allergic reactions. This can also vary over the life of a person. You might be unaffected as a child and become sensitized with repeated exposures. So even if you are not allergic now, it is a good idea to learn how to recognize Poison Ivy in case your body changes as you age.
The clinical name for the skin irritation caused by Poison Ivy is Rhus Dermatitis. It usually starts as itching and small blisters within a few hours after exposure. Depending on how strong the exposure was and/or how sensitive the person is, that may be all there is to it. However, it may develop into an inflamed, swollen rash with open, weeping sores that persists for up to two weeks. Severe cases may require a visit to the doctor. Urushiol is absorbed into the skin within three minutes of exposure. If it is washed off quickly with dishwashing soap and water, the consequences will be less, but you are seldom close to a lavatory when you get exposed, so learning to recognize and avoid it is the best strategy. An important fact to remember is that the urushiol can travel on your clothes or the fur of your pets, so remember to wash them too if you suspect they were in contact with Poison Ivy.
All the following woody plants have trifoliate leaves and may be found in the Great Plains.
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Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix or Rhus vernix) is a woody shrub growing to 3 m tall. All parts of the plant contain a toxic resin called urushiol that causes skin and mucous membrane irritation to humans. The leaves are pinnate, 25-50 cm long, with 7 - 13 leaflets; the leaflets are 4-10 cm long and sometimes mistaken for individual leaves. The veins from which the leaflets grow are always red. The fruit is a small white or grey berry, produced in panicles 10-20 cm long; this distinguishes it from other sumacs which have red berries.
Poison sumac grows exclusively in very wet or flooded soils, usually in swamps and peat bogs, in the eastern United States and Canada.
In the U.S., it can grow as far west as Wisconsin, where it is found only in the southern part of the state. In the U.S., it is listed under the Federal Noxious Weed Act of 1974, as amended (7 U.S.C. 2801 et seq.), as a "noxious weed". Most U.S. states list this plant in similar categories. It is considered one of the "U.S. Invasive Weeds".
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