Summer means spending more time outside.  As healthy as that is, a few precautions need to be taken to ensure you enjoy your time outside and not get in trouble with a poisonous plant.  Here are some of the plants to be aware of and to stay away from.

Poison Ivy:

The oily sap in its leaves and stem can cause an allergic reaction that can make your skin red, swollen, and itchy.  Each stem has three leaflets.  It can grow as a vine or as a shrub.

Poison Oak:  

Poison oak looks a lot like poison ivy but its leaves look more like an oak leaf. The sun-facing side of the leave has tiny hairs on it and is a darker shade of green than the ground facing side.  It could take hours or days before your skin reacts to the sap.

Poison Sumac:  

A woody shrub that grows in wet, swampy areas.  Each stem has 7 to 13 leaves and clusters of green berries. The itch from the sumac could last a week or two.   Check in with your doctor if the rash is on your face or sensitive parts of your body, if the rash covers more than 25% of your body, you notice pus coming from the rash, or you breathe in smoke from burning the shrub.

Giant Hogweed:

Giant hogweed lives in rich, wet soil near ditches, streams, and farms.  It has umbrella-shaped groups of small white flowers, leaves with deep creases, and stems with white hairs and purple blotches.  It can grow as tall as 15 feet.   The sap can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight (ultraviolet light), which could blister, burn, or scar.  It can damage your vision.

Stinging Nettle:

The hairs on the stems of stinging nettle inject your skin with a combination of chemicals including formic acid, which is what stings.  Stinging nettle can grow to as high as 6 feet.  Look for the stinging hairs on the stem to identify it.

Wild Parsnip:

Wild parsnip grows to about 5 feet tall and has yellow flowers that grow in an umbrella pattern.  When the sap from the leaves, stalks, or flowers gets on your skin, sunlight can cause a skin rash within a day or two.

Poison Hemlock:

This plant looks like wild carrot or a large parsley plant due to its tiny white flowers that form in umbrella-like bunches.  If you see purple blotches on the stem, a ridged fruit, or it grows to 3-5 feet, chances are its poison hemlock.  The plant is poisonous to humans and livestock if eaten and you can get sick if the oils from the plant are absorbed through your skin.


Often grown in gardens due to its colour and bell-shaped flowers.  It can be purple, white, yellow, or pink and blooms in the spring.  All parts of the plant are poisonous including the seeds and can slow or disrupt your heart.

Bitter Nightshade:  

A woody plant that can grow up to 6 feet and has purple flowers in groups of three.  It blooms around July and August and kids are often attracted to the juicy, glossy, red poisonous berries.  The poison can give you a headache, drowsiness, stomach ache, vomiting, trembling, lowered temperature, dilated pupils, and diarrhea.  Anyone who may have eaten this plant needs to get to a doctor right away.


Jimsonweed is a strong smelling nightshade herb with white trumpet shaped flowers and can grow up to 4 feet tall. This poisonous plant can make you nauseous, thirsty, and feverish, weakens your pulse, and raises your heart rate.


Mistletoe is actually a parasite, living off other trees and shrubs. Its stems are thick and easy to break with lots of branches.  The leaves are thick and stay green all year.  The flowers are yellowish with no petals.  The small white berries are poisonous and can give you diarrhea and slow or stop your heart.


This tall shrub has long leathery leaves that grow in bunches of three.  Flowers are bright, grow in clusters, and can be red or white.  All parts of the plant are poisonous.  Consuming just one leaf could kill an adult.

Azalea and Rhododendron:  

The leaves, nectar, and flowers can poison you if you eat a lot of it.  Kids sometimes mistake it for honeysuckle and eat the nectar.  Eating any part of this plant can irritate your mouth and make you nauseated.

If you suspect you have been poisoned by any one of these plants call 911 immediately.  If your throat or mouth feels burned or irritated, drink some milk or water.  If the poison got onto your skin, rinse it off quickly.  If you get it in your eyes, rinse them out with saline drops and continue to do that every 15-20 minutes.