There are several hundred species of poisonous plants in the United States. Some of these plants must be eaten to cause harm. Other plants cause serious rashes just by being touched. Outdoor workers - farmers, landscapers, forestry or construction workers, for example - are often at risk of exposure to poisonous plants.
Poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac are all related. And their sap contains an oil that causes a rash when it touches the skin. Touching an undamaged leaf or stem on one of these plants will not cause a rash. But when the plants are damaged, the sap is exposed. And the leaves and stems are fragile. So it’s best to avoid touching the plants entirely. Together, poison oak, ivy, and sumac are some of the most common poisonous plants in the United States. Every state except Alaska and Hawaii has at least one of the three plants in it.
Manchineel has been called the most dangerous tree on the planet. And it grows in southern Florida. Like the poison ivy family, the manchineel has sap that causes blisters. Simply standing under the tree when it is raining can be dangerous as the toxin in the sap is washed off the plant. And the tree produces a little fruit that has been called “the little apple of death.” When eaten, it can be fatal.
The best protection against poisonous plants is knowing what they look like and avoiding them. Also, it is very important to wear protective clothing: long sleeves and pants, thick gloves, eye protection. It is dangerous to breath the smoke when burning these plants. Wear a respirator if you must burn them. If you touch a plant like poison ivy, wash your skin immediately. Lastly, wash any tools or clothes that touched the plant. The toxic sap can remain on items for 5 years and continue to cause rashes.
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