All plants are important for one reason or another. Plants, such as corn, beans, wheat, and rice, are a major source of food for the world. Most of our modern medicines come from plants, and some of the best possible cures for cancer come from plants. They provide us with oxygen and remove toxic carbon dioxide, cool our atmosphere, and hold our soil in place. In short, we can’t live without plants.
With such a diverse group of organisms, there is bound to be a few that can be harmful to us. In Iowa, there are only a couple of plants you should learn to identify and avoid. Aside from randomly eating plants, which is never recommended, poison ivy and stinging nettles are the two biggest concerns. Contrary to popular belief, poison oak and poison sumac do not grow in Iowa.
Poison ivy is identifiable by its three leaves. The stem of the plant is often red or reddish in color. This plant can take many forms and is tricky to accurately identify. The best way to avoid this plant is to remember, “leaves of three, let it be”. Symptoms of exposure to poison ivy can vary from small blisters to a massive itchy rash. Medical attention is often needed depending on the severity of the allergic reaction. Normal reactions to poison ivy can usually be treated with over the counter anti-itch creams or calamine lotion.
Stinging nettles is characterized by its broad leaves, with several even serrates (saw toothed) along the edge of the leaf. On the stalk of the plant as well as the vein of the leaves are small hair-like needles. A severe itchy, burning sensation quickly follows after contact with this plant. Medical attention is not needed. The discomfort will usually subside within 24 hours.