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Monday - July 06, 2009

From: Monroe, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Skin irritation caused by hydrangea in Monroe GA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Can Queen Anne Lace hydrangea cause a skin irritation such as poison ivy or oak? I picked up a branch that had broken off to discard and the following day I have a place on my arm about six inches long that has blisters and is burning and itching like poison ivy.


Apparently so. It's getting to where people with allergies aren't safe anywhere. This article from "Poisonous Plants of Georgia" from the  Herbarium of the University of Georgia at Athens describes the symptoms, acknowledging that the sensitivity to branches, leaves and flowers is real. It apparently is most often found in nursery workers who are occupied with propagating hydrangeas. It can, however, take one to ten years before the sensitivity develops.

There are two species of hydrangea native to Georgia: Hydrangea arborescens (wild hydrangea) and Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea). Your naming your hydrangea as "Queen Anne Lace" leads us to believe you have a hybrid or a cultivar named that by some plant retailer. We could find no actual hydrangea by that common name.

We learned that the culprit in the hydrangea is an isocoumarin derivative of hydragenol and that it is not present in all hydrangeas. However, since we don't have a clue which hydrangea you have in your garden, your best bet is to avoid them all. You apparently were sensitized very quickly, if this is the first time you had the reaction, or perhaps it was the first time you handled hydrangea branches. Nursery workers experiencing the problem wear rubber gloves when doing their work with the plant. 

However, there is also the possibility that you DO have poison ivy. It is a sneaky vine that likes the same moist, partly shady conditions that hydrangeas do, and loves to hide in dense shrubs. Either way, this is a medical matter, out of Mr. Smarty Plants' line. You should probably see a doctor, and then avoid direct contact of your skin with the hydrangea in the future.

Hydrangea arborescens

Hydrangea arborescens

Hydrangea quercifolia

Hydrangea quercifolia



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