As we enter into the mid-summer heat of July, we want continue our 2021 Summer Safety Campaign and highlight this month’s SEPI Safety topic, poisonous plants.  Learn to identify the various types of poisonous plants and how they may affect your skin or body.



These plants affect your skin causing rashes, itching, and swelling when you come in contact with them.

POISON IVY.  “Leaves of three, let them be” is an old adage to follow if you want to avoid coming into contact with the common poisonous plant. Poison ivy usually has a single large center leaf with two smaller ones on the sides. The shape of the leaf varies but they all end in a point. The leaves start off reddish in color in the spring, green in the summer and yellow/orange in the fall. It can lead to some seriously itchy skin for long periods of time.

POISON OAK. Similar to poison ivy, poison oak also has three leaves with a large middle leaf and two smaller side leaves. Poison oak gets its name from the lobed leaves which resemble the leaves from the oak tree. The leaves have hair on both sides and tend to be a duller green color than poison ivy.

POISON SUMAC. Grows as a tree, five to twenty feet high, in swampy areas. The stems are red and have multiple leaves that are smooth edged and not lobed or toothed. Skin contact with the oil of a plant leads to an itchy, burning allergic skin reaction.

WILD PARSNIP.  Can grow up to five feet tall and has yellow flowers that form an umbrella-shaped cluster. It is found in a wide range of habitats including fields, pastures, and roadsides. The sap of wild parsnip makes a person’s skin more sensitive to sunlight. Those who have contact often don’t realize it until they break out in a blistering rash after spending a short time in the sun.

GIANT HOGWEED.  As  its name implies, the giant hogweed can grow up to fourteen feet tall and five feet across. It produces a white umbrella-shaped flower cluster with up to 50 rays per cluster. The leaves are lobed and measure up to five feet wide. Contact with the sap of the giant hogweed can cause blisters, burns and even scarring.

STINGING NETTLE.  Hairs on the plant will sting you when you come in contact with them. These hairs cover the entire plant making it easy to spot in the wild. The stinging nettle grows in dense clusters reaching up to eight feet tall. The leaves are between two and five inches long with a heart-shaped base and pointed tips. It is found in rich, moist soil in woodlands, along trails, and on riversides.



These plants if ingested may cause vomiting, nausea, swelling of the gastrointestinal tract, hallucinations, seizure, cardiac arrest, heart conditions and similar symptoms.

ELDERBERRY. Though cooked elderberries are edible, the remaining parts of the plant and its uncooked berries contain glycosides that turn into cyanide when consumed. The elderberry can be recognized by its distinctive umbrella-shaped cluster of purple-black berries. It also has compound leaves that have one leaf at the top and pairs of leaves opposite each other along the stem. In the spring and early summer, the yellowish-white flowers grow as a flat-topped cluster or umbel. It is commonly found in fields and shady areas.

POKEWEED. Known for its large lance-shaped leaves, long red-purple stems (can be up to ten feet high) and its dark purple berries (they grow in a grape-like cluster). It is often found in disturbed soils on roadsides, in pastures, and along the border of woods. The raw berries, roots and mature plants are poisonous.

ROSARY PEA. Grows in pastures, abandoned farms, roadsides, and similar disturbed areas. The seeds of the rosary pea are highly toxic – a single seed could kill you. The plant has a distinctive red and black pea that is so uniform in size that it is used as a standard for weight measurement.

WHITE BANEBERRY (DOLL’S EYE). The plant’s red stalk and its striking white berries are easy to identify in the wild. It’s a good thing the berries are creepy looking- eating them can cause cardiac arrest and death.

JIMSON WEED. Another member of the nightshade family which is known for its poisonous members. The plant grows between two to five feet with a thick stem and trumpet-shaped white or purple flowers. The large, irregularly lobed leaves are dark green on top, light green on the bottom and have a strong stinky smell when you crush them. The ping pong ball-sized seed pods are equally as wicked with spikes on the outside. All parts of the plant are toxic and can cause hallucinations.

Information provided by: greenbelly.co/pages/poisonous-plants-identification-guide 




  • Know your plants
  • Don’t eat unknown plants
  • Dress properly
  • Wash your hands and clothing
  • Be careful touching plants
  • Don’t burn unknown plants
  • Avoid making crafts
  • Carry Tecnu

WASH: Immediately wash the skin that came in contact with the plant.

MONITOR: After cleansing the area, watch for signs of poisoning such as a red rash, patches of blisters, itching, and swelling. If these symptoms appear, use a wet compress, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream on unbroken skin to minimize itching. An oral antihistamine can be used to reduce itching.

SEEK HELP: Call the 24/7 Poison Help line at (800) 222-1222, consult poisonhelp.org or head to the nearest emergency medical center.


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