How to Identify, Prevent, and Treat Poison Ivy and Poison Oak While Enjoying Arlington Parks Generate Name
By Danica Dodson, Arlington Parks & Recreation
Posted on June 11, 2020, June 11, 2020

As warm weather approaches and stay-at-home orders come to a close, many Arlington residents are eager to get outside and enjoy their favorite trails throughout the Arlington Parks system. However, with the summer season also comes the increased risk of encountering pesky plants that can cause harm upon contact, like poison ivy and poison oak. Arlington Parks and Recreation works hard to ensure that park trails are kept clear of these troublesome plants, but they are capable of unexpectedly cropping up anywhere and spreading with ease. To keep our park visitors safe and informed, we’ve compiled these tips on how to identify poison ivy and poison oak plants, how to prevent exposure, and how to treat poison ivy rash.

Identifying Poison Ivy and Poison Oak 

Poison Ivy: Poison ivy can take the form of a shrub low to the ground, a high free-standing bush, or even a climbing vine clinging to a tree or fence. Regardless of which form the plant takes, the distinct leaf arrangement won’t change. Poison ivy leaves grow in clusters of 3, usually with one larger leaf on the end of the stem and two slightly smaller leaves flanking it. The leaves can be notched or smooth on the edges and have pointed tips. Poison ivy leaves turn green in the summer and take on a reddish or orange color in the fall.

Poison Oak: Poison oak is generally not found in North Texas, but cannot be ruled out completely. Like poison ivy, poison oak also grows in 3-leaf clusters but has a closer resemblance to oak leaves. Poison oak leaves have blunt tips and may appear hairy on both sides. The edges of the leaves are often lobed or scalloped rather than smooth. Poison oak generally grows as an upright shrub rather than taking on many forms like poison ivy. These leaves also turn green in summer and change to orange or brown in fall.

You may be familiar with the old saying: “Leaves of three, let it be.” A good rule of thumb is to avoid any plant with leaf clusters of three just to be safe. However, one notable exception to this rule is Boxelder, which is actually a large tree. You may spot a boxelder tree in the wooded areas of Village Creek Historical Area, but these are not poisonous or harmful in any way despite their similar leaf arrangement. 

Preventing Exposure to Poisonous Plants

If you are going to an area where you suspect you may encounter poison ivy or poison oak, you can take preventative steps to minimize your risk of the plant coming into contact with your skin. Those who plan to venture into overgrown areas can wear long pants or high socks to protect legs from exposure. If your arms could also be exposed, a lightweight long-sleeve shirt is recommended. Be sure to wash clothes that may have touched poisonous plants as soon as possible. Ivy Block lotion can be applied to the skin to provide some protection, but it’s still best to avoid direct contact altogether.

If you come across a suspected poisonous plant but don’t have appropriate skin coverage, your best bet is to turn around and seek out an alternate route rather than trying to step over or squeeze past the plants.

It’s important to note that all parts of these poisonous plants are harmful to touch, not just the recognizable leaves. It is not safe to touch the leaves, stems, or roots as the irritating urushiol oil is found on every area of the plant from root to tip.

Treating Poison Ivy Rash After Exposure 

 If you have been exposed to poison ivy or poison oak, wash the affected areas with soap and warm water as soon as possible. The allergic reaction is caused by the urushiol oil secreted by the plant, which can bind to human skin in as little as 10 minutes. The sooner you clean your skin, the more chance you have of being able to remove as much of the oil as possible. 

Any resin that does not get washed off will cause a rash for most people. Rashes from both poison ivy and poison oak appear in the same form and can be treated in the same way. Rashes usually form within 12-72 hours after exposure and consist of patchy and swollen red areas, blister outbreaks, and intense itching. 

 Thankfully, most reactions are not severe and can be treated at home. Many cases clear up within 2 weeks with home remedies. Rashes should be kept clean, dry, and cool. Itching can be treated with a calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, and a cold compress can help with this as well. Avoid scratching the rash, as this can worsen it or cause infection. 

 As always, the health and safety of Arlington park visitors is highly important to the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department. We hope these tips help you steer clear of any poisonous plants you may encounter as you enjoy the outdoors both in the parks and at home.

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