"Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known." Sagan


Poison Oak continued

In all of my time teaching and discussing the world around us, I've always attempted to convey understanding, appreciation, and respect. The realization that each of these things, individually and as a group, has as much right to exist as any of us. That everything is much more valuable to us than we may initally imagine. 

I particularly enjoy doing this for those things which tend to carry a bad reputation in the human mind: spiders, snakes, slugs, frogs, mud, dirt, molds, poison oak... all that is creepy, crawly, slimy, and uncomfortable. The things which so many often suggest that we should 'just kill it'.

The thing is, all of these things are necessary for our survival, their survival, and the survival of other living things. We would die without the slimy maggots and fungi, without the insect eating spiders, without the plants that allow us to breathe, shelter ourselves, make medicine and eat.

So what about Poison Oak? Why not just destroy it and plant another plant that doesn't give us rashes? Who or what could possibly benefit from it? Of course, it provides oxygen via photosynthesis for us and other lifeforms, but what else?

One of the first answers that springs to mind is - poison oak obviously provides some level of physical protection from humans for the plants and animals in it's immediate area. I certainly am not going to try to catch a critter hiding in it, or pick a flower that's growing amidst it's foliage. Several bird species are smart enough to realize this and build there little nest homes there.

Also, aside from being protective shelter, it is a  direct food source for some bird species (some of which are endangered), black-tailed deer, even browse for horses and other livestock. Through the process of photosynthesis, poison oak creates food from the energy of sunlight. The grazers get this food energy by eat the young leaves, the birds eat the berries. The energy is then passed on to other animals when these animals become food themselves, thereby making it an indirect food source for others.

While people might be able to pick a different brand of bread to eat when the store stops carrying their favorite, wild animals don't have this luxury. There rarely is a replacement brand standing by. So, if this plant were to be wiped due to someone's dislike of it, these critters lose homes and food.

Humans may not be able to make salads out of it, but even we utilize it. The various nations, like the Chumash and Karuk, who've lived side by side with poison oak for countless years and thus developed vast and intimate knowledge, have used it for numerous things: from dye to lacquer, from a cure for ringworm to warts, plus some; it has even been safely used in cooking. 

I, painfully, do not possess this knowledge. I found out the uncomfortable way that the oil found in poison oak, Urushiol oil, is also found in many other plants. Like in the skin of the mango I ate. Believe me when I say that "poison oak lips" are not fun! 

The other members of Toxicodendron -  poison ivy & poison sumac; Anacardiaceae - lacquer tree, mangoes, cashews, and others; and Ginkgo Biloba all contain urushiol oil. The Japanese obtained that well known beautiful deep gloss from the oil in the lacquer tree. The oil is also used by scientists when studying DNA.

Today the bright red poison oak provided a beautiful contrast against the grey of the rain and the clouds. Sometimes this is enough.

While I'm sure these are not all of the things that poison oak and it's special oil have to offer, I hope it can help to give pause to step back and consider that this plant has given quite a bit to us and has never required anything in return... except maybe to keep a respectful distance.


Poison Oak - Toxicodendron diversilobum

Well everyone, some good suggestions were made; things I'd like to go into in detail. However, since this is the first 'real' blog, I prefer a relatively simple and very familiar topic so that I may focus a bit more on how to manage the page. I need to learn the bits and pieces of this editor, figure out the html. Forgive me if the content isn't as stellar as it could be. Ultimately this is a guinea pig page; my little lab rat that's going to run the first course. Let's see what happens...

      (Poison Oak, October 2008)

Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a plant that most people would prefer never to encounter. By knowing your environment, and the things in it, hopefully you won't have to encounter it intimately.
Native to the Pacific states, it grows in abundance throughout California ranging up through the western portion of Oregon and Washington. Most likely it extends beyond the national borders into Canada and Mexico as well, since most species tend to disregard the territorial lines of humans.
I've found this plant in grassland, wetland, and forest habitat; growing on the side of busy roads, near beaches and in yards. It can be found growing as a shrub or winding up into treetops as a vine. In some areas it will blanket over the rest of the vegetation, creating a leafy wall that brings to mind a deep jungle rather than the banks of a California creek.
The appearance of poison oak changes from season to season. In spring the leaves are shiny and vibrant green; through summer they tend to be a darker green; in fall they turn a brilliant fiery red; in winter, the leaves fall off and all that's left are the woody stems.
Perhaps you've heard the saying, "Leaves of three, leave them be."? The easiest way to identify poison oak is by the leaves. The shiny, lobed leaves grow in clusters of three. While there are some non-poisonous plants that occur in the same habitats and have similar leaves, it's simply a good idea to avoid anything that might possibly be poison oak.
The thing that makes poison oak so special, and its leaves so shiny, is that it has a fantastic defense: Urushiol oil. This durable oil, which is found on all parts of the plant (including the  fallen leaves or barren stems and branches!), can cause contact dermatitis (a rash) if it gets on skin. This oil can remain on a surface for up to five years and can be transferred from skin, clothing, pets (personal experience), even the bottoms of shoes.
You may not know that you've come in contact with this oil initially, it can take several days before there is any noticeable reaction. Generally the reaction starts with an itchy feeling where the contact occurred, then it becomes red, most often followed by clear fluid filled blisters. Sometimes the area can swell or crack like chapped lips do. The severity varies from person to person. The rash can last from a few days to several weeks. For some the allergic reaction is so severe as to require hospitalization. Yet, roughly 25% of the population have no reaction at all to it. Lucky ducks.
The best way to remove the oil from the skin is with rubbing alcohol or another solvent. If none is available, use soap and cold (not hot or warm) water as soon as you can. Wash your clothes in warm or hot water and detergent, put the washer through an extra wash after you use it. While there are pre-contact products that help minimize exposure and reaction, and post-contact products to help sooth your rash, nothing will take it away. The only thing that will ensure you don't have a reaction is to not come in contact with the oil.
Other serious potential dangers from poison oak to be aware of are inhalation or consumption. When going for a branch to toss into your fire or roast your marshmallows, be sure you know what you're grabbing (especially in the late fall or winter). To have this reaction on the outside is bad enough, imagine how awful and life-threatening it would be inside your lungs or digestive tract! *shudder*

Remember though, this plant is not bad. You only pay the price if you mess with it first. It doesn't sneak into your tent to smack you while you're sleeping; it doesn't grab you and tickle under your armpits with it's oiliest leaves. It's just a plant. A plant that paints the view in beautiful reds and greens. It simply has a great defense to keep people from messing with it.


Testing. First Post. 0100, 11.11.10

I'm up too late. At least it's very binary and that's amusing. Trying to get as much done on this as I can. Including making this tester post. Please check back in a few days, I should have it up and running smoothly by then. Hopefully with a real post as well!

My, it does look a bit ugly. Ugh! I'll tweak the tidbits later.