6 Poisonous Plants in New York

Harmful plants grow all around us. Which ones should you know about that grow in New York?

Numerous harmful plants grow among us. Some of them can cause blisters, burning, itching, and scarring on our skin when touched. With this in mind, it’s important to be cautious around those plants.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to six toxic plants that are often found in New York that you’ll want to avoid.

1. Poison Ivy

Poison ivy grows as a vine or small shrub. It can climb low plants and trees, poles, or it can just grow along the ground. Its leaves are glossy and turn red in the spring, green in the summer, and can be yellow, orange, or red in the fall. 

This plant may also produce pale yellow berries or off-white flowers.

These plants produce urushiol, an oily sap that induces an irritating, itchy allergic reaction when it comes in contact with skin. 

Poison ivy is found across the United States, but it often grows in New York yards, marshes, fields, parks, and wooded areas.

poison ivy toxic leaves

2. Giant Hogweed

Giant hogweed is a toxic plant that produces a large, flat-topped cluster of white flowers in late summer. Sometimes its cluster of flowers measures up to 2.5 feet across. The plant itself can grow to be 8 – 14 feet tall and 2 – 4 inches in diameter. 

Giant hogweed leaves, which can be as large as 5 feet wide, are lobbed, deeply indented, and coated with coarse hairs and purple patches. 

Contact with giant hogweed causes very itchy skin in most people. Its sap has a phototoxic property that causes sunlight sensitivity. Contact with the plant’s sap may also cause red spots or painful, burning blisters to form on the skin that can cause scarring.

This plant grows in western New York, primarily in fields, woodlands, along roads and ditches, and near streams and rivers near rich, moist soil.

little white flowers of a giant hogweed flower

3. Stinging Nettle

The herbaceous plant stinging nettle can grow to be 6.5 feet tall. Its stems and leaves are both covered in a thick coating of stinging and non-stinging plant hairs.

The bulbous caps located on the tops of their stinging plant hair fall off when they’re touched, revealing needle-like tubes that can penetrate the skin. These tubes contain acetylcholine, formic acid, histamine, and serotonin, all of which can cause an itchy, burning rash on humans and animals for up to 12 hours.

Stinging nettle plants can be found across the United States, but they’re especially prominent on the outskirts of wooded areas and in other undisturbed regions.

stinging nettle growing in the forest

4. Cow Parsnip

Cow parsnip is a poisonous plant that grows in upstate New York where temperatures are colder. It grows flat, white flower clusters that can grow up to a foot wide. It has a hollow, grooved stem and coarse, hairy, tri-segmented leaves. 

This poisonous plant can produce sap that causes phototoxicity and can trigger a painful, itchy rash to form on the skin.

Look out for cow parsnip in wooded areas, in forests and grasslands, and along streams, rivers, and roads. 

Cow parsnip growing in new york is poisonous

5.  Poison Sumac

Poison sumac is a small tree or a multi-stemmed shrub with red smooth leaves. This plant also grows tiny yellow flowers that later give way to small white berries that mimic those that grow on poison ivy.

Poison sumac, like poison ivy, produces sap that can cause skin irritation that can manifest itself as a rash.

Poison sumac is less prevalent than most of the other toxic plants listed; it mainly grows in wet areas like swamps and peat bogs.

An example of poison sumac growing in New York

6.  Wild Parsnip

Wild parsnip plants can grow to as tall as 5 feet high. They have small, flat-topped yellow flowers that grow in clusters that can expand to 3 – 8 inches wide.

Avoid contact with this plant because it can cause severe burns on the skin that last up to 48 hours. Contact with this plant could also result in increased sensitivity to sunlight

Look out for wild parsnip growing along roadside ditches, in open fields, growing pastures, and in other undisturbed areas.

Wild parsnip can cause burns on the skin

Phillis Butler
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