Getting Poison Oak is sort of like a tick bite: You don't notice until it starts itching and swelling. This is hard for me to write about. I have a personal history with this plant, so I feel I owe some folks , that don't know about P.O., a fair warning. Take a good look at the second photo below. This is P.O.'s finest hour( or month, or season). Here in California we have the oak version. In the east, I believe it's poison ivy or poison sumac. What's in a name, anyway...., it's all nasty stuff.
There's a story, on my husbands side of the family, about friends who came to visit my husband's grandmother. She lived on a ranch in Mariposa, Ca. when she was a child . Now, if you know anything about the Sierra Foothills, you know that what survived after the Gold Rush wasn't the miners. The miners didn't leave because the gold ran out. History has it all wrong. The real reason they left was the rattlesnakes and ( yes, you guessed it ) poison oak. Anyway, his grandma's family had friends visit from the "City". They loved being in the country and decided to take a walk. Later, they arrive back at the ranch with a lovely bouquet of wildflowers and ( you guessed it, again) poison oak. Needless to say, they all came down with horrible rashes and they didn't come up to visit again.
My personal history dates back to childhood summers in the Napa valley, where my parent's families lived. I grew up in one of the first housing tracks in the Pleasant Hill- Walnut Creek area of California . We had lots of walnut trees and mustard grass and sometimes a wayward possum or raccoon, but at my grandma's house up on Atlas Peak, in Napa, there were rocks, rattlesnakes and scorpions the color of dirt... and ( that's right) poison oak all over the place. I loved my grandma's place. It was the complete opposite of where I lived with my parents. This dusty wonderful realm was my retreat from the perfection of my regular childhood. Summer's up there were free and wild. The dogs and I (and sometimes grandma when she was feeling good) would hike all over the property and down to the creek where I could pretend I was Princess of the hills. It was a magic place that still lives in my memories. I couldn't wait for Mom, Dad and Sis to come and get me, though, and I'd be so glad to see them. I loved coming home to a clean house and good food, and friends..., and my family. Then, when I was home for less than a week, I would start itching. How I got this stuff practically every year of my young life was a mystery. Grandma always showed me what it looked like and how to avoid it like the plague, but every summer I would come home and break out with a case of P.O..... just before school started. I can still smell the calamine lotion. It was always my number one fashion accessory during the first weeks of school. So, my long history with P.O. makes me an expert and I always like to warn people when they visit us...before they pick a bouquet for our dinner table. Looking back, I think it was the grandma's dogs. I played with them all the time. They would run all over the place and surely through the P.O. bushes, as dogs will do.
After Marrying the Prospector, I was always trying to prove I could be the outdoor partner that he love. So, P.O. became a part of my life. I have ended up in the hospital because of reactions to this plant. Prednisone is on my list of favorite drugs for fast results. You would think I'd learn my lesson: But do you know where some of the best gold is? In the tree roots next to streams and rivers. ...; and can you tell the difference between any old tree root and a P.O. tree root?...., No!
Such is life.
Still.... take a good long look at the photo below. Avoid this plant at all cost. Next time we discuss Rattlesnakes.