Poison Sumac it’s everywhere, Maybe?

Poison Sumac, berries have been bby the birds.

Poison Sumac, berries have been eaten by the birds.

For the past year I’ve been writing for the Country Anglin’ Outdoor Guide.  The article below is my contribution for this month. The CAOG is available at most Ohio retailers of Outdoor gear etc, pick one up you won’t be disappointed.

If you are reading this and you are like me then you’ve probably spent quite a lot of time pounding brush getting to your spot. Doing what we do, we all end up banging through thickets of thorny and twiggy underbrush. Lets be honest we live in a fairly densely populated part of the country and we have plenty of marginal wild untamed shrubby growth that seems like cosmic background radiation, its everywhere. All along the highways, fence rows, in ditches and along the edges of woodlands are masses of green plants sprouting to the hilt, and only a few are identifiable to my untrained eye. Most people pass right by and don’t think twice about these thickets. So what right?

Well I thought so too, until I had an unexpected encounter in the wilds of my back yard. One evening we were picking some groceries in our back yard vegetable garden. Its tucked out of sight in the Back Forty, a half acre vacant plot of land beyond a 6 foot privacy fence to the rear of our house. Consequently the grass in the back forty generally gets mowed half as often as the visible yard and as such has an abundance of undesirable weeds and shrubby marginal undergrowth like the rest of our state. There is a scrubby patch of woods to the east that serves as a farmers irrigation tank and mosquito breeding farm. The fence row here is a typical overgrown line of brambles that really needs some attention, but we don’t mind the wild look back there, it keeps it mysterious and provides cover for the local tree rats and other gamey varmints. None the less the back forty’s open space makes a great place for a vegetable garden.

It was as idyllic a moment as one could hope for really. There we were with our two kids picking peppers, and cucumbers; eyeballing the not yet red Brandywine tomatoes hanging on the vine. The sunset was painting the sky ever darker shades of pink and the fire flies were beginning their nightly dance. I had our newborn in a carrier on my chest, which is the only and last time I will ever use that ridiculous contraption, it is totally worthless. Our four year old was off talking to the neighbor girls. We were picking away and admiring the bounty when I noticed a bush with clumps of nice looking berries growing on it not too far away along the fence. We picked some berries sniffed them, squished them, played with them. My wife said she didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know either. We broke off a piece and carried it inside to identify using the trusty old internet. Thanks google!

The next moment struck like the soundtrack to the movie Psycho — WREAK WREAK WREAK!. As I pulled up the friendly neighborhood tree identification website and went through the questionnaire to identify the twig I was holding in my hand, I was greeted with large bold type, POISON SUMAC DO NOT TOUCH!

We discarded the twig appropriately, hosed all parties down, including newborn, washed all clothes and linens in contact with said persons and proceeded to call everyone in our phonebook with any backwoods know-how. Every neighbor, hunting buddy, farming uncle and boy scout leader in our little black book of life, and nobody had ever seen or had a case of poison sumac. How could it be? All the research on-line says its not common in Ohio and restricted to boggy swampy areas in northeastern corner of the state. So what was this toxic exotic doing in my idyllic portrait of pastoral life.

According to our local nature center, Poison Sumac is far more common than any of us think. It is all over our little area of Southwest Ohio. After watching the birds in my back forty they love the stuff, they eat the berries and apparently spread it around judiciously with their well lubricated digestive systems. I’ve noticed it all along the side of our road and along the ditches of just about every major road I travel on. I noticed it at the soccer field that my kids play at. I’ve noticed it near shopping centers of high end suburbia. Its everywhere, like a nightmare. Its like a scratchy, itchy, inflamed ever present shadow stalking my every move, following me everywhere I go. The funny thing is, none us ever came down with any symptoms, so maybe it wasn’t Poison Sumac after all? Nobody can really tell, me. All I know is, the next time I go tromping through the thickets in search of grouse or getting to the duck blind I’m going hose down really well afterwards and wipe down all my gear with rubbing alcohol, and you might want to think about that too.


2 thoughts on “Poison Sumac it’s everywhere, Maybe?

  1. Nice blog here!

    We were just talking about telling the difference between Poison Sumac and any other Sumac plant at our Scout hike last weekend. When in doubt, remember: Leaves of 3, let it be (And another good reason to Leave No Trace.)

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