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Poisonous Plants While Camping

Learn how to identify some of the poisonous plants you may see while camping.

Camping in the great outdoors is a fun time for you and your family. You get to sleep outside, go on hikes, hit the bike trails, etc. You have to remember, though, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. It’s important to know how to identify poisonous plants while you’re camping. Some might leave you with just an itchy rash, while others can be much more serious and even fatal. Learn how to pick out some of the poisonous plants you might encounter on your next camping trip.

Poison Ivy

Poisonous Plants While Camping
Whether you’re hiking, backpacking or setting up camp, the last thing you want is to run into poisonous plants. Learn how to recognize poisonous plants while camping.

Poison ivy is one of the most common poisonous plants you might see while camping. You’ve probably heard the saying, “leaves of three, let it be.” It’s important to keep that age-old saying with you while camping. Poison ivy grows on a vine with solid green, pointed leaflets grouped in threes.

While not fatal, you’ll be in for a few very uncomfortable weeks. An oil in the plant’s sap called urushiol causes itching, irritating and burning when you come into contact with it. The sap will stick to anything, so if your camping gear comes into contact with it and you touch the camping gear, you’ll probably end up with a rash. If you find poison ivy (or oak or sumac) do not burn it to get rid of it. The oil will vaporize in the smoke, and can be even more dangerous. The oil in the smoke can be inhaled, causing the rash to spread throughout the whole body instead of being in just one spot.

Not everyone who touches the plant will have a reaction to it, since the rash is an allergic reaction. However, it’s still a good idea to not touch it and find out the hard way if you’re allergic or not.

Poison Oak

Poison oak is similar to poison ivy. It grows in groups of three, and contains the same chemical in its sap. You can differentiate it from poison ivy because it grows as a woody shrub. The leaves and stems will produce a rash if you come into contact with the plant.

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac grows as a small tree or large shrub, making it easier to spot than the other two urushiol-carrying poisonous plants. The branches grow about seven to 13 leaves each, instead of only three. It’s also easy to spot by its red stems and white, tiny fruits growing with the leaves.

Treatment for Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac

If you’re exposed to any of these poisonous plants while camping, there are a few different things you can do. Immediately wash the affected area with soap and water. If the rash has already broken out into sores, make a paste out of baking soda and lukewarm water to dry out the sores. You can also use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to relieve some of the itching. Wash your clothing and any surfaces the urushiol came in contact with. Do not scratch the rash. It can cause the rash to blister and become infected.

Of course, always seek medical attention when needed. You’ll need a trip to the emergency room if the rash causes you to have trouble swallowing or breathing, the rash covers a large portion of your body, you experience swelling or the rash develops on your face.


If you’re backpacking or camping in the mountains, watch out for aconite. It grows in mountainous regions of the United States and other parts of the world. It also goes by the names “Wolf’s Bane,” and “Monkshood.” The plant is recognizable by its purple-blue wing-like flowers that grow in stalks.

While the plant looks like pretty purple flowers, it’s laced with aconitine poison. Just touching the plant can cause your skin to tingle or go numb. Ingesting the plant has much worse side effects: diarrhea, vomiting, heart irregularities, coma and death. Symptoms begin usually within an hour of contact with the plant. If you or another camper touches or ingests aconite, seek medical attention immediately.

For more tips and information about braving the outdoors, visit our camping blog.


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