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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - July 22, 2009

From: Greensburg, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: What tree berries causes blisters in PA?
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

This summer my family was playing with some berries picked from a tree in our backyard. They would place them in their mouths and shoot them through homemade pea-shooters. Shortly after everyone began to experience severe poison ivy like symptoms, swelling, redness, irritation, blisters etc. We were informed by the dr. that it was a poison arrowwood tree. I have searched and searched and can't find anything that matches it. It grew in tree form and had small green peas or berries.

ANSWER:

Several plant species, both native and non-native are known as arrowwood.  The plants most often refered to by that common name are several of the Viburnum species, especially Viburnum dentatum (southern arrowwood).  Other native viburnums known as arrowwood include, Viburnum rafinesquianum (downy arrowwood), Viburnum recognitum (southern arrowwood) and Viburnum obovatum (small-leaf arrowwood)Viburnum molle, Soft-leaf viburnum is also known as Poison haw.  Other genera also include species known as arrowwood such as. Euonymus atropurpureus (burningbush).  Some non-native plants, including Frangula alnus are sometimes called arrowwood.

However, we will not be able to identify your mystery plant without good, close-up images of the leaves and fruit at a minimum.  Pictures of the whole plant and close-ups of the flowers will also be helpful. Please see the Ask Mr. Smarty Plants ID page for more detailed instructions on submitting images for identification.

Finally, we would not discount the possibility that your family was picking and pea-shooting the fruit of Toxicodendron radicans (eastern poison ivy).  It commonly grows up and through shrubs and trees and produces lots of berries.

 

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