Thursday, October 26, 2017

What's Lurking under the Willow Tree?

Is That Hollow a Good Place to Hide?

If one passes by this willow tree and looks at it from the path, one sees this shady space, almost like a little hollow or cave that would make a good hiding place. But you aren't likely to find any lovers there making the most of solitude. Anyone who has any sense will stay away.

Let's take a closer look at what's hidden in the shadow of this tree. I approach it, stepping away from the trail. I use my flash to chase away the shadows. Does it look like a good hiding place now? It this a tree you'd like to climb? Would you like to gather these beautiful shiny autumn leaves? I don't think so. Not if you recognize that lovely patch of poison oak?

And If You Did Not Recognize the Poison Oak in Time or Fell Into It?

Use this. It should offer some relief from the itching and pain.

A Closer Look at the Poison Oak Leaves

The photo above shows how the poison oak looked under the tree without using the flash. It was late afternoon. You will notice that some leaves are changing color, but others are still quite green. Poison oak leaves are arranged in groups of three connected leaflets. They are shiny with urushiol, the oil that causes the rash when it comes in contact with skin. The leaves don't have to touch the skin to cause the rash. Anything touching the skin that has picked up some oil can also do the same damage -- clothing, pet fur, etc.

Below is a photo I took exactly two years earlier than the photo above under that same tree. Here it is easier to see the patterns and colors of the leaves.

It is very important for anyone who hikes in California to be able to recognize poison oak. When I was growing up, we all learned the rhyme you may have heard: "Leaves of three, let it be." That's a good precaution. It's better safe than sorry. And if you touch poison oak and are as sensitive to it as most people are, you will be sorry. Books can tell you how to identify poison oak, but the sketches are often much neater than what you will see in the wild.

 It's true that berries that grow in some of the same places as poison oak does and can resemble it. I've seen them grow right next to each other. Most of the berries have thorns. Poison oak doesn't. They both change color in the fall. If in doubt, don't touch.

Poison Oak Loves to Climb

It climbs fences and shrubs. It especially likes to climb oak trees. Chances are if you are in an unmaintained area and you see a group of oak trees, you will also find poison oak climbing some of them.

Many public parks in Paso Robles that have open spaces don't maintain those open spaces. That's why Larry Moore Park is such a likely place to encounter poison oak right next to trail. I've even seen poison oak in maintained areas. I once encountered it encroaching on a public sidewalk on a busy street next to a hospital in San Luis Obispo.  I sure didn't expect to see it on a busy city sidewalk.

Go enjoy your open spaces, but be careful. Keep your eyes open and stay away from anything than looks like poison oak. If you are walking your dog in such a place, remember if he gets the oil on his fur, and you pet him, you can be just as miserable as if you'd touched the plant itself.

Have you had any experiences with poison oak or poison ivy? Feel free to share them in the comments.


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