Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Know the poison facts about parsnip and ivy in Wisconsin

Poison ivy and wild parsnip can be interesting discussions around a summer campfire, especially if no one is itching and scratching their arms and legs.

Myths are profuse and while a few sound interesting, many are just that – myths that have no truth.  So here are some facts.

Poison ivy “crops” have been reported to be abundant this year.   To know the plant is the best prevention.  While a few folks say they are immune to the oils that cause dermatitis and are found in all parts of the plant, during all times of the year, most people will eventually get the rash if they mess with the plant enough times.

Notice “all parts of the plant, at all times of the year.”  That means leaves, stems, roots, fruits, as well as the smoke from these parts being burned can be carried in the air, so maybe a camp fire is not the best place to have this discussion unless everyone is sure there are no poison ivy plant parts being burned.

The oils can be transferred secondarily, that is from plant to pet to owner.  And also from plant to tool to another owner.  So beware.

Poison oak is not found in Wisconsin, but farther west.  Poison sumac grows in swampy areas, not commonly along roadsides.  It has white fruits like poison ivy.

All poison ivy leaves have three leaflets, regardless of whether they are on a vine, herb or shrub.Poison ivy, depending on conditions and habitats, can grow as an herb, a vine and a shrub.  In all cases the leaves have three leaflets, commonly, but incorrectly, called leaves.  So the mnemonic should read, LEAFLETS three, let it be.

Wild parsnip juices (sap) causes phytophotodermatitis, which produces symptoms that sometimes looks like those of poison ivy.

There are three parts to phyto-photo-dermatitis.  Phyto means plant; wild parsnip in this instance.  Photo means light; sunlight here.  And dermatitis refers to the skin becoming inflamed or blistered when the plant juices and sunlight come together.

When the plant’s juices get on someone’s skin, the skin becomes more sensitive, or hypersensitive, to ultraviolet light.

Some people, and some doctors, call phytophotodermatitis lime disease.  No, not Lyme disease as in the bacterium deer ticks transfer, and named for Lyme, Connecticut, where Lyme disease was identified.  The reference to lime disease is in the juices of a lime fruit.

The lime juice will do the same thing as the juices from the wild parsnip do, but the reaction is usually less severe.  This led some doctors to refer to wild parsnip phytophotodermatitis as margarita dermatitis, too, because of the lime juice that is used to make the drink.  Don’t spill juice on yourself while having a margarita on a patio while in the sun, but around a campfire, at night, is fine.

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