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Poison oak, also known as western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), is native to western North America with a distribution extending from British Columbia to the Baja California peninsula. In Washington and Oregon, poison oak is found mainly in the western regions of the states. In California it is widespread and grows in a wide range of habitats from sea level to the 5,000-foot elevation and in areas including open woodland, grassy hillsides, coniferous forests, and open chaparral.
IDENTIFICATION:Poison oak is a woody shrub or vine that loses its leaves in winter. In open areas under full sunlight, it forms a dense, leafy shrub usually 1 to 6 feet high. In shaded areas, such as in coastal redwoods and oak woodlands, it grows as a climbing vine, supporting itself on other vegetation or upright objects using its aerial roots..
Leaves normally consist of three leaflets with the stalk of the central leaflet being longer than those of the other two; however, leaves occasionally are comprised of 5, 7, or 9 leaflets. Leaves of true oaks, which are superficially similar, grow singly, not in groups. Poison oak leaves alternate on the stem. Each leaflet is 1 to 4 inches long and smooth with toothed or somewhat lobed edges. The diversity in leaf size and shape accounts for the Latin term diversilobum in the species name. The surface of the leaves can be glossy or dull and sometimes even somewhat hairy, especially on the lower surface.
In spring, poison oak produces small, white-green flowers at the point where leaves attach to the stem. Whitish-green, round fruit form in late summer. In early spring the young leaves are green or sometimes light red. In late spring and summer the foliage is glossy green and later turns attractive shades of orange and red.
IMPACT:Poison oak thrives along roadsides and other areas where established vegetation is disturbed, in uncultivated fields, and on abandoned land. It also is a problem in wood lots, Christmas tree plantations, rangeland, and recreation areas. While it can reduce optimal grazing area in rangeland or pastures, the primary concern associated with poison oak is the allergic reaction it causes in many people. All members of the genus Toxicodendronâ€”which includes poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumacâ€”cause allergic contact dermatitis. About 2 million cases of skin poisoning are reported in the United States each year, primarily from these three species. In California, the number of working hours lost as a result of dermatitis from poison oak makes it the most hazardous plant in the state.
Poison oak can survive under a wide range of temperatures, elevations, soil types, moisture conditions, and light intensities. However, it is most commonly found on hillsides with shallow soils.
Mechanical Method:You can physically remove plants located in a yard or near houses through hand pulling or mechanical grubbing using a shovel or pick,which is not recommended for individuals who are sensitive to this plant, and treatment with herbicides. It is essential to remove the entire plant including its roots. Remove plants in early spring or late fall when the soil is moist and it is easier to dislodge rootstalks. Grubbing when the soil is dry and hard usually will break off the stems, leaving the rootstalks to vigorously resprout. Detached and dried brush still can cause dermatitis, so bury or stack the plant material in an out-of-the-way location, or take it to a disposal site. Again, never burn poison oak.
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