If you spend a lot of time enjoying outdoor activities, you probably already know how to identify common culprits such as poison oak and ivy when it comes to causing skin rashes and itching. However, these aren't the only plants that can give you contact dermatitis. If you frequently experience unexplained itching and rashes after spending time in the great outdoors, it's highly possible that toxins in certain plants are to blame -- after all, many types of plants developed defense mechanisms designed to provide protection by discouraging animals and humans from disturbing them in any way.
Following are just three of the many outdoor plants found in most parts of the country that may cause unpleasant skin reactions if they come into contact with your bare skin while you're hiking, biking, or otherwise enjoying outdoor recreation in wooded areas.
You're probably used to seeing bleeding hearts in old fashioned gardens, but a wild variety exists that grows in woodland areas across the country. In many places, they grow in masses alongside wooded trails, making them easy for the average hiker or other trail user to come in contact with them, particularly on narrow trails where legs may brush against the vegetation growing on the sides. Bleeding heart leaves contain an alkaline compound that causes the skin to react by producing hives and raised, itchy rashes. Because it's such a beautiful flower, you may be tempted to gather up a bunch and take them home to enjoy in a vase, but you should leave them where they are and wear thick socks and full-length pants when hiking, biking, or jogging on trails where they grow.
Buttercups are harmless looking little plants with small, cheery looking yellow flowers, Like wild bleeding hearts, they provide a charming accent to woodland environments. Because buttercups are low to the ground, they're at just the right length to brush against the area just above a standard pair of socks, or, if you choose to wear no socks at all, they may affect your skin from your ankle up to a couple of inches below the knee. Most of the time, contact exposure to the toxins in buttercups result in a itchiness accompanied by a mild rash. Buttercups grow in masses and are quite beautiful when in full bloom. Although it can be tempting to walk or run through a vibrant patch of blooming wildflowers, steer clear unless you're wearing long pants and a pair of thick socks.
Otherwise known as wood sorrel and often mistaken for common shamrocks, oxalis is another woodland plant that grows in masses on the sides of many recreational use trails. Like buttercups, oxalis usually grow to just the right height to brush against bare skin an inch or two above the tops of socks. There are several separate varieties of this species, and although all of them look slightly different, all you really have to remember is to avoid contact with woodland plants that resemble a shamrock or a four-leafed clover.
If you find yourself experiences itching, redness, hives, or other signs of contact dermatitis on a regular basis after you've been enjoying yourself in the great outdoors, you should consider making an appointment with a dermatologist. He or she may be able to prescribe a topical treatment designed to minimize any symptoms that may occur so that your enjoyment of spending time outside isn't compromised by a few toxic plants. Keep in mind that rashes, itchiness, and other symptoms may not occur right away; it could be as long as 24 hours before they show up on your skin.