Home » Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac


Over the years, we’ve come across a lot of individuals suffering from poison sumac. Unfortunately, none of them knew what it was or how they got it. Most people believe they are dealing with poison oak or poison ivy, but sumac is a little different. It’s important to understand the differences, so you can come up with the right solution. Today we’re going to discuss what poison sumac looks like, how long it lasts, and a variety of other information.

What is Poison Sumac?

Just like oak and ivy, poison sumac can give humans a rash due to the urushiol oil found in the plant. Most of the time you will see poison sumac in the form of a shrub or small tree, but the leaves from every tree can also fall to the ground. Identifying poison sumac can help you reduce the risk of developing a rash, and even keep you from experiencing severe pain (we’ll explain more later).

What does Poison Sumac look like?

Outside of seeing a small shrub or tree, poison sumac has oval leaves with a point at the end of each one. The leaves will change colors throughout the year, but you can always see a few spots on each one. It looks as if the urushiol oil has leaked in those locations, similar to what you see if blood vessels break underneath your fingernail.

It is also important to look at the fruits that each poison sumac tree or shrub produces. They are gray in color and look somewhat spherical, but have an opening at the top. The best example we can give you is that they look like a small version of an olive with the pimento inside. However, you should never even think about eating these. After all, poison sumac can be much more harmful than poison ivy or poison oak.

You should also note that poison sumac does not have a 3-leaf pattern like poison oak and poison ivy. Instead, these will be accompanied by five to seven leaf patterns.

Why is Poison Sumac more Harmful?

There are several botanists throughout the United States who believe poison sumac is the most dangerous plant in the U.S.A. When you’re dealing with this problem, an itchy rash is the least of your worries. This is especially true if someone decides to burn the sumac. There is a common mistake that burning any poisonous tree, plant, root, or vine, can be hazardous to everyone in the area.

Urushiol oil found in these plants can be inhaled from the smoke. If you find yourself in this situation, head to the doctor immediately. It’s possible for poison sumac to end up on the lungs or even in the blood stream. There have also been instances where people have had to deal with pulmonary edema.

Pulmonary edema is a medical condition where impaired gas exchange causes respiratory failure. When a person develops pulmonary edema due to poison sumac, their lungs begin to fill up with blood. The individual will then start suffocating and eventually die without the proper medical attention.

Where is Poison Sumac found?

If you live in the Eastern part of the United States, poison sumac is most likely growing nearby. Since it’s primary growing spot is in flooded soils, the southern states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Northern parts of Florida have a plethora of poison sumac present. You can also find a lot of sumac trees around Washington D.C., Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, Pittsburgh, and other areas along the Eastern coast.

In fact, you can find poison sumac just about anywhere on the Eastern side of the country. We’ve seen it in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan as well. There are even spotted areas in Louisiana and Texas if you look hard enough. The point is; if you live in any of these areas, it’s a good idea to look out for poison sumac.

Identifying Poison Sumac on the Skin

Even though poison sumac is considered one of the most harmful plants in the United States, it looks similar to poison ivy and poison oak. There could be individual blisters or clusters of them depending on where the urushiol oil enters the skin. You will also have an unbearable itchiness feeling in the same areas. While everyone wants to “itch” the location, it’s a good idea to refrain from doing so.

One thing to keep in mind is that the blisters do not contain urushiol oil. They are a result of the oil entering the skin. When the blisters develop, they mostly contain water. The only reason we’re telling you this is because poison sumac cannot be spread to another location because you touch the liquid from a leaky blister. In fact, there are certain home remedies you can use to clean and remove the blisters, which promotes faster healing.

How Long does Poison Sumac Last?

The amount of time varies from one individual to another. It usually depends on your poison sumac sensitivity level, and whether it is internal or external. If you’re dealing with an internal situation, scheduling a doctor’s appointment immediately is imperative. Now, if you’re looking at the average case, poison sumac lasts anywhere from one week to three weeks (arm, leg, neck, etc.). If you end up with poison sumac on the face, genitals, or other uncomfortable areas, the overall time could be longer.

Poison Sumac Preventative Measures

When you’re out in the wilderness, avoiding poison sumac is the most important preventative measure. Unfortunately, some households have poison sumac growing in their backyard. If you fall into this category, take the necessary precautions each time you’re around it. For instance, cover your body with the appropriate clothing if you’re going to be near poison sumac. Things like long sleeve shirts, jeans, and full length socks can come in handy.

Once you’re finished, take the clothes off and throw them in the washing machine. This will remove the risk of someone else touching your clothes where urushiol oil is present. If you drove to a location where poison sumac was present, be sure to disinfect your vehicle. Just by touching the door handle, steering wheel, keys, or anything else, could leave urushiol oil lingering. This includes the vehicle’s seats, since you could have urushiol on your clothes.

Don’t be afraid to jump in the shower after having direct contact with poison sumac. Even if you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to take a shower anyways. Just make sure you’re taking a cold shower so the urushiol will wash off the skin (your skin’s pores will close).