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SCV Outdoor Report: Poison Oak: There's Illegal And Then There's Just Plain Dumb

On Tuesdays, I enjoy listening to Carol Rock's news show on KHTS, "Something to Talk About".  She always ends the broadcast by sharing some weird news stories.  In this week's segment, she mentioned that a local government in Switzerland had banned nude hiking and she reminded the listeners, "It's illegal to hike naked in Towsley Canyon". 

Her comment got me to thinking:  you can't legislate away stupidity.

But there's stupidity and then there's just plain ignorance.  And ignorance can be helped.  So, as a public service, let me share a story about my encounter with...



Most people have heard the ditty, "Leaves of three, let it be".  But that description is just scratching the surface.  Did you know, for example,  that poison oak grows in two shapes, depending on the amount of shade?  In sunny spots, it grows into a bushy shrub, sometimes producing dense thickets.  But in the shade, it forms a climbing vine.  And because it is a deciduous shrub, you can't always identify it in the fall, when the "leaves of three" turn red and drop off.


I discovered this many years ago by accident, while hiking along a shady trail in Northern California.  I noticed some leafless vines were starting to block the trail.

Did you know that urushiol (pronounced oo-roo-shee-ohl), the chemical responsible for the allergic reaction, is found in the sap inside the plant?  Simply brushing up against the plant will not necessarily cause a reaction.  The plant has to be damaged to release the sap.

The problem is - most of these fragile plants have been damaged in some way.  The damage could be from the wind, or an insect chewing on a leaf, or a hiker trying to be helpful.

I discovered this when I carefully shifted some of these vines.

Did you know that urushiol is an oil-like substance that will stick to many surfaces, including clothing?  And that it will remain potent for a long time.

When I returned home, I removed my clothing and immediately gathered it up and placed it in the washing machine.  The next day, I developed a red and itchy rash on my hands.  But I also found the rash in several unmentionable places.

So you see, you can't legislate away stupidity.  But I hope you can learn from my dumb mistake.

To learn more about poison oak, check out these websites:

USDA:  Outsmarting Poison Ivy and Its cousins

Poison Oak:

Upcoming Outdoor Events: 

Saturdays, May 9 and 23rd, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information contact Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565.

Saturday, May 9, 9:00-11:00 AM.  Wildflower Hike in East/Rice Canyon.  Just in time for Mother's Day.  Spend a couple of hours with her while searching out the Spring wildflowers.

For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Saturday, May 16, 8:00-10:00 AM.  Morning Bird Hike in Towsley Canyon.  Towsley Canyon is a year-round home for birds.  They like our Mediterranean climate, the local bounty and the California sunshine.  Bring your binoculars and meet at the entrance.  For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to