3 Poisonous Plants of Southern Ontario

Author: Safetech Environmental Ltd | | Categories: Toronto

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With Safetech’s line of work in Environmental Services, undoubtedly we have field technicians who find themselves in heavily wooded and vegetated areas. Since Safetech always puts safety as our number one priority, our field staff are required to wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and have appropriate Health & Safety training to foster situational awareness when on site. Identifying and avoiding Poisonous Plants is one of many topics Safetech covers with our staff when they are training. 

As a field technician myself, who ventures out into highly vegetated areas, I always have an eye out for any Hazardous vegetation that are poisonous to touch. Below I have listed 3 plants I lookout for when I am in a vegetated area in Toronto, Ontario. 

 

1. Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans or Rhus radicans)

“Leaves of three, let it be. Berries white, take a flight.” Remember this saying. It is super helpful when identifying Poison Ivy. 

Poison Ivy © Noah Cole

Notorious for causing an itchy rash after contact, poison ivy is a plant to look out for. All parts of the plant contain the allergen urushiol. Upon contact your skin will be itchy and 24 - 48 hours later, your skin will become blistered and red. 

Prevention: Long socks are alway recommended! But please note, urushiol can contaminate clothing so make sure to wash your outdoor clothes in hot water to neutralize the allergen if you know your clothes have brushed up against poison ivy. 

Treatment: Thoroughly wash the affected area with soap and cold water as soon as possible (please do not use hot, avoid opening up your pores). You’ll probably still get a rash but this will prevent spreading. Use calamine lotion afterwards and try to not itch your skin!

 

2. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

Any umbrella-like plant with small white flowers I avoid like the plague. 

Giant Hogweed © Patrick Hodge, MNR

Giant hogweed produces poisonous sap that collects around the stem’s base. The chemical of concern in the sap is furanocoumarins, which is light activated. Upon contact and exposure to sunlight (remember, it is light activated) an itchy rash will appear. Some of the worst cases cause scars and light sensitivity that can last years. 

Prevention: Cover your skin with clothes or avoid touching the white umbrella plant. 

Treatment: Thoroughly rinse the affected area and protect the area from sunlight AT ALL COSTS. If a reaction occurs you may be sensitive to light for several months or years. So get friendly with sunscreen and keep covered. 

 

3. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Another umbrella-like plant I do my best to avoid, except this one has small yellow flowers. 

Wild Parsnip © Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Just like the giant hogweed, wild parsnips have the light activated chemical furanocoumarins in their sap. Thus upon contact and exposure to sunlight an itchy rash will appear. Fun fact about this plant though. This is actually a garden vegetable cultivated for food in some places, the wild version though (which is the one we are concerned about) is what we want to avoid. 

Prevention: Just like giant hogweed, cover your skin with clothes or avoid touching the yellow umbrella plant. 

Treatment: Just like giant hogweed, thoroughly rinse the affected area and protect the area from sunlight AT ALL COSTS. If a reaction occurs you may be sensitive to light for several months or years. So get friendly with sunscreen and keep covered. 

 

Remember it is always better to be safe than sorry. We don’t claim to be experts. If we think it is a poisonous plant, we don’t go out of our way to identify it, we simply just do our best to avoid it. Curiosity kills the cat, but in this scenario curiosity will leave the cat covered in rashes. 



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