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Poison Sumac – The Swamp Monster

Poison Sumac – The Swamp Monster

By Dan Boelman, RN, BSN, Zanfel
Photographs courtesy of Zanfel

How much do you know about poison sumac? Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a small tree that grows only in the eastern half of the U.S., and only in areas that are very wet: swamps, peat bogs, and other wetland areas. Poison sumac has a compound leaf with 7–13 pointed leaflets. It is the only sumac species that has white berries.

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Out of poison ivy, oak, and sumac, poison sumac is by far the least common of the three. Poison sumac contains the same toxin as poison ivy and poison oak, which is called urushiol.

As part of the 2022 Poison Ivy Conference, a poison sumac tree was removed from a swamp in southern New Jersey for study. In the image above you can get an idea of what the structure of the plant looks like, as we set it upright on a nearby path.

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Image courtesy of Will Cook.

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An important thing to keep in mind is that there are several species of non-poisonous sumac that are common throughout the U.S. Staghorn sumac, smooth sumac, and common sumac are a few examples. Non-poisonous sumac species have reddish or brown colored tufts of seeds, or berries. Non-poisonous sumac can be found near woods, on dry hillsides, and sometimes even landscaped areas.

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If you venture into a swampy area and come into contact with poison sumac, Zanfel Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Wash can be used anytime after outbreak of the rash. It will stop itching and get the healing process started. Zanfel can be found in the first aid section of your local pharmacy.


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