Heavy winter rains have brought us a beautiful wild flower season, but also created an epic year for posion oak, known to botanists as Toxicodendron diversilobum. Poison oak is more robust and healthy this year at the Pedro Point Headlands because the wet winter created perfect conditions for new growth.
And while we need to take precautions to avoid it, according to Bay Nature, poison oak has a good side. The California native may not seem valuable to humans, but it has a solid place in California ecosystems. It reported, “Humans may have no use for it, but many California animal species do. Unaffected by the toxic oil, small animals like fox squirrels seek shelter in poison oak thickets and feed on its summer berries. Birds have formed a symbiotic relationship with poison oak, building its nests among the plants and feeding on the white berries, then spreading the seeds through excrement.
You might not know that the chemical Urushiol (see compound above) is the oily organic allergen that gives poison oak its claim to fame: an allergic skin rash on contact. Yes we have abundant poison oak this year, but a few simple precautionary measures will minimize problems:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and boots;
- Wash quickly with cold water after exposure because the oil begins doing its nasty work within 15 minutes of contact; warm water opens up the pores, which you do not want; and
- Use a degreasing soap or special wash such as tecnu.