Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - January 26, 2016

From: San Francisco, CA
Region: Select Region
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Shrubs, Vines
Title: Western Poison Oak Sap Transfer
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

My partner is a park ranger and constantly exposed to poison oak. He gets infected sometimes but mostly seems to tolerate it pretty well. I, on the other hand, keep getting reinfected with it, all over my body, and badly. We are pretty careful not to touch until he is out of his work clothes. So I am wondering if I am getting poison oak from objects such as the plastic laundry basket he puts his dirty clothes in, or the bedspread he might sit on before changing, or his coat hanging in the entryway which might brush mine? In other words, how long do the oils linger on porous and non-porous objects? And if they do last long, any suggestions on decontaminating everything? Thank you very much for any information!

ANSWER:

Pacific poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is not a shrub to take lightly (just like its relative poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) to the east. You are on the right track by scrutinizing every action that might transfer the sap from clothes, boots, tools, etc. Keep up the investigation and don't let up even for one occasion.

Wikipedia says it is a woody vine or shrub inhabiting conifer, mixed broadleaf forests, woodlands, grasslands and chaparral biomes. Like poison ivy, poison oak causes itching and allergic rashes in many humans after contact by touch or smoke inhalation.

Poison oak leaves and twigs have surface oil, urushiol which causes allergic reaction in 4/5ths of humans. Before the urushiol has been absorbed by the skin, it can be removed with soap and water. However, 50% of urushiol can be absorbed within 10 minutes. Once it penetrates the skin, it can't be removed with water.

UCDavis suggests that rubbing alcohol and cold water be used to wash within 5 minutes of exposure to the urushiol.

The bad news is that urushiol, the plant oil is extremely stable and can stay active for many years in the right conditions, the www.poison-ivy.org website says that the underside of your lawn mower can still transfer the oil in the spring from last fall.  They also say that clothes should be washed by themselves with laundry detergent and bleach.  Tools and shoes should also be cleaned with rubbing alcohol while wearing rubber gloves.

Another informative website is the Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Information Center. They say that 1 billionth of a gram is all that is needed to cause a rash. Specimens of urushiol several centuries old have caused dermatitis in sensitive people. Also 1-5 years is normal for urushiol oil to stay active on any surface including dead plants. Rubbing the rash won't spread poison ivy to other parts of your body (or to another person). You spread the rash only if urushiol oil has been left on your hands.

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

More Vines Questions

Identification of vine with seed cluster that looks like a 3D star
October 28, 2013 - I found a weird vine on the creek bank with seed clusters that look like a 3D star they also have hair like thorns on them.
view the full question and answer

Rash from non-native potato vines
July 21, 2010 - Here in No. CA we have two potato vines that over the last 5-6 years have flourished gloriously. Just this year, we went to prune them (as we normally do once or twice a year), and both my husband an...
view the full question and answer

Fast-growing, non-poisonous evergreen vine for California
March 14, 2013 - Hi, I am in the north bay area of California, north of San Francisco, need a quick growing vine to cover a very long section of chain link fence that is not poisonous (back yard backs up to school pla...
view the full question and answer

Opinion of 5 best native garden plants in Oklahoma from Burneyville OK
September 07, 2013 - What would you say are the 3 to 5 BEST native garden plants for south central Oklahoma?
view the full question and answer

Non-poisonous, fragrant flowering plant and vine for Arkansas
June 17, 2009 - I would like to find a non poisonous flowering plant that smells good, that has small to moderate plant growth, that will do well in sandy soil area, shade to full sun either way. Also would like to f...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.