Noxious and Toxic Plants To Avoid When Exploring The Wilderness – Part 1

Noxious and Toxic Plants To Avoid When Exploring The Wilderness – Part 1Seeing that good weather is upon us, a lot of people will pack their bags, grab their hiking boots and head towards the wilderness. It’s the perfect time for that camping trip you keep postponing and exploring the wilderness is the perfect body-mind workout. However, when being out in the field, there are some toxic plants you should stay away from if you don’t want to ruin your day.

If you love spending time outdoors and exploring this great country of ours, you should do your homework before heading out into the wilderness. Just like you prepare a backpack with all the necessary items to make your adventure more enjoyable, you should also learn a thing or two about all the toxic plants you can encounter. While there are dozens of plants that can irritate your skin or start an allergic reaction, there are others that could kill you.

When learning about plants, you should first start by discovering which plants can hurt you. I believe that learning about noxious and toxic plants should become basic knowledge if you plan to spend a lot of time in the outdoors. When friends and family ask about tips and suggestions for planning their camping vacation, I always advise them to learn a thing or two about the noxious and toxic plants common to North America.

There are two distinct categories when it comes to dangerous plants, noxious and toxic. While the noxious plants won’t kill you, they can still bring you a lot of pain. And believe, getting in contact with some of these plants hurts like hell. They look similar to the vegetation surrounding you, but they will give you blisters, rashes or even trigger an allergic reaction.

When it comes to toxic plants, these are life-threatening and will cause symptoms that can kill you in a couple of hours. There are a few out there that you should pay attention to, especially since some of them look like pretty flowers and others look like a wild delicacy.

Noxious Plants To avoid

Poison Ivy

How to spot it

Poison ivy can develop into a shrub or bush, or it can grow as a vine along tree trunks and limbs. You can find in most parts of North America and it grows almost everywhere. It even grows in urban areas and it’s very appealing to children with its red leaves in the spring. As the plant matures, the leaves will turn green and it grows yellow or green flowers. It also develops berries that can be white or green-yellow.

Our ancestor came up with the old saying, “Leaflets of three, let them be” and it’s still useful today to identify the plant.

How it hurts you

The oil contained in the sap of the plant will cause severe itching upon brief contact. As the oil soaks into the skin, rashes and blisters will form. Once the rash appears, it can last for up to three weeks. The good part, if there’s ever one to touching poison ivy, is that the rash will go away on its own.


In the field, it is recommended to wash the skin with cool, soapy water and repeat the process after two or three hours. Avoid scratching the area as you will only make the oil residue spread even more inside the skin. As I said above the rash will go away after a week or so, but if you have a serious reaction, you need to see a doctor right away. Your dermatologist may prescribe a steroid ointment that you can apply to the skin. To treat a severe case, a strong medicine like prednisone may be necessary.

Poison Sumac

How to spot it

You will see poison sumac growing as a shrub, but it’s not uncommon to encounter it as a small tree. If you live in the eastern and southeastern regions of the United States, you should be familiar with poison sumac since it’s widely spread there. It’s a water-loving plant, and you can find it along the banks of rivers or marshes.

It’s quite easy to identify poison sumac since the stems contain between seven and 13 leaves arranged in pairs. Poison sumac is deciduous, so the leaves change color throughout the year. Newly grown spring leaves may be bright orange, becoming light green during spring and summer, changing to red during autumn, then falling off the plant entirely. It grows small flowers in clusters along the stems and the color may be pale yellow or green. It produces small green or yellow berries which turn white and grey as they mature.

How it hurts you

Touching the leaves, including the fallen ones can cause swelling and redness of the skin. Also, small or large blisters will appear. For the most part, you will feel a burning sensation of the skin. The bad part is although the symptoms caused by poison sumac are similar to the ones cause by poison ivy, they are more severe.


In the field, you should avoid using hot water to clean the affected area as it will only open the pores and help spread the poison. This is a common mistake most people make. Within 30 minutes or so, wash the area with cool, soapy water. Some people will scratch and allow for the rash to spread. If it covers a large part (30–50 percent) of the body, or you have a high fever (over 101°F), you will need to see a doctor. Just like for poison Ivy, the rash will go away on its own.

Related article: A Few Considerations Before Bugging Out Into The Woods

Poison  Oak

How to spot it

This is a common plant in the western regions of the United States and it’s similar in appearance to poison ivy. It also has three leaflets, but the leaves are rounded loves like the ones of an oak tree. Also, it’s easy to spot since poison oak grows as a bush and not as a vine.

The normal size of the poison oak is 3 feet high, but under the ideal conditions, it is known to grow to 10 feet high. The flowers are green and grow in clusters. The fruit is dark to light tan in color and is covered in fine hairs. The fruit is green when unripe. The color of the bark is dull reddish brown.

How it hurts you

Well, we can say that it hurts you just like poison ivy and poison sumac, due to the oil found in the sap of the plant. It can cause the same itching sensation and blisters will appear, and just like its cousins, even dead plants and fallen leaves can hurt you.

I’ve had the opportunity to get in touch with it not by direct contact, but after touching my clothes that had the oil in them. We passed over dead plant parts and some of it rubbed on my pants. Long story short, even if it touches your clothes, you may still affect you indirectly.


Avoid scratching or rubbing the affected area to avoid spreading the skin irritating oil. The same treatment can be applied as for poison ivy and poison sumac. My rash lasted for 10 days, but in severe cases it can last for 30 days or longer.

Stinging nettle

How to spot it

Although not as dangerous as the other plants listed in this article, stinging nettle is one of the toxic plants I hate the most. It may be just me, but whenever I go hiking and no matter how careful I am, I always run into this plant and get stung by it. Ever since I was a kid, I had many encounters with this plant and I just can’t stop my hate for it.

Now, when it comes to identifying stinging nettle, things are pretty straightforward. This herbaceous plant has serrated leaves, 1 to 6 inches long that come off the main stem opposite to each other. The plant can grow up to 7 feet tall in the summer and luckily, dies down to the ground in the winter.

Some people say it has soft leaves, but that’s just due to its small tiny hairs that grow on the leaves. These small needles will inject various irritating chemicals (including histamine) into your skin. The bad part is that this moist-soil loving plant grows all over the world. The good part is that stinging nettle has several medicinal uses and it was also used both as medicine and food by the Native Americans.

How it hurts you

Once you touch the leaves and the tiny needles inject their chemicals into your skin, you will feel a painful stinging sensation that can last for several hours. It can also cause the skin to swell and some people are known to develop a nasty allergic reaction.


I’ve always used ointments with antihistamines or hydrocortisone to calm the stinging sensation. Some people will just ignore the pain and push forward. This becomes easier to do if you avoid scratching the affected area.  However, if the skin becomes red and starts to swell, you may need to see a doctor since you may be developing an allergic reaction.

To follow with toxic plants

In the second part of the article (coming this week), I will discuss about the toxic plants that are the most dangerous for hikers and campers. I’ve seen the effects of these toxic plants first hand and I can tell you it’s not a pretty picture. I’ve also learned to carefully identify these plants and I keep my distance whenever I cross path with them.

Be prepared and stay safe out there!

Useful resources to check out:

Survival Lessons from the 1880s Everyone Should Know

Find Out What’s the Closest Nuclear Bunker to Your Home

This ONE THING Can Help You Terminate Your Store-Bought Dependency

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us

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