Humans have been defecating in the wilderness ever since the first caveman popped a squat behind a sage brush, and throughout that time valuable lessons have been learned regarding what (and what not) to use for toilet paper. And because nothing makes the car ride home from camping more uncomfortable than a rashy rumpus, here’s a quick guide on things in the woods that will make your butt itch:
One of the most common skin irritants and ill-advised forms of toilet paper is the poison ivy plant. Found on both sides of the country, a good rule of thumb to avoid poison ivy is “leaves of three, let it be,” meaning that you should never wipe with any plant that has a group of three leaves sprouting from the stem. 85% of Americans will have an allergic reaction to the oil found in poison ivy (urushiol), and many famous last words have included the statement “I don’t care, I’m not even allergic.” Rashes can develop within 12 to 72 hours after contact, and despite what it may feel like, the blistering rash does not spread nor is it contagious. The poison spreads while it’s still oily and before it soaks into the skin. Other common visual characteristics of the poison ivy plant include a red stem and a lack of thorns, and can be found growing as a vine to the side of a tree. Western poison ivy is not as prominent, but delivers the same punch.
For many people the terms poison ivy and poison oak are used interchangeably, that’s because the two plants can look strikingly similar and both contain the same urushiol oil that cause the blistering rash. The same “three leaves, let it be” adage applies, and the biggest difference between the two plants is that poison oak is most prominently found on the west coast and southeast portions of the United States. Akin to poison ivy, poison oak grows as a ground-vine, shrub, and climbing vine, and if it is ever accidently applied to your campfire, the inhalation of that smoke can cause immediate hospitalization. Let’s repeat that one more time; burning any wood with urushiol oil on it is very detrimental towards your lungs and overall health.
The third member of the urushiol oil family is the poison sumac plant. A little rarer than poison ivy and poison oak, the poison sumac plant likes to predominantly sprouts in wetland habitats. Poison Sumac also has different identifiers to avoid, including a parallel row of upward pointing oval leaves on a red stem, is often a sparse looking shrub or tree, and grows clusters of yellow or green flowers or downward hanging berries (which no one should eat).