There are many beautiful hiking trails to be found around the Vancouver area. Whether your interest is plant life, animal life, waterfalls, or all of the above, there is something for you in the trails of southern Washington.
The area is home to hundreds of plant species that thrive in its cool, maritime climate. Most of these plant species are harmless and indeed, many of them are beneficial to humans. However, a few plant and tree species that inhabit the Vancouver area are poisonous and should be avoided. This article will help you recognize them.
While not a native tree, the Horse Chestnut tree has been cultivated in the Pacific Northwest because of the beautiful flowers it displays. It does well in the temperate climate of Vancouver and actually provides a wide variety of benefits to humans; provided its seeds are not consumed raw.
Raw seeds, when eaten, can cause nausea, vomiting, extreme thirst, and in rare cases, even paralysis or death. The seeds are also dangerous to animals, so if you are walking a dog or riding a horse near a Horse Chestnut plant take care to avoid it.
You will recognize a Horse Chestnut tree by the distinctive white flowers with pink blotches at the base. The fruit is an unmistakable green, spiky shell surrounding the large nut-like seeds. This is where the toxins, including alkaloid saponins, are found, and they are more potent in fresher fruits. This tree grows to be particularly large; in some cases, up to 128 feet in height.
Despite its name, poison oak is not, in fact, a tree, but a vine or shrub. It is extremely common in Western North America, being found on hiking trails all up and down our coast. You can recognize it by its distinctive scalloped leaflets, which are grouped in threes on the branches. During the spring, poison oak also sprouts white flowers.
While this plant is not a tree, the vines often grow on and around trees, so it’s wise to keep an eye out and avoid climbing trees if you are unsure whether poison oak is nearby. The oil on the leaves and twigs is called urushiol, and it is what causes the reaction that most people have to poison oak. While some people are actually immune, the majority of people will develop rashes, blistering, and swelling in the area that has touched poison oak. The oil can also get onto clothing and even into pet fur, where it can spread further. Often, this makes it difficult to pinpoint the source of the poison oak.
Much like the above example, the stinging nettle is not a tree, but an herbaceous plant. Like horse chestnut, it is also known for its medicinal benefits, and it can even be eaten. However, the leaves of this plant are covered with small needles that can cause itching and pain when you brush up against them by accident.
If you are stung, you will develop tell-tale bumps across the area where your skin has touched the nettles. You can recognize this plant by its serrated leaves on narrow stems. It is very common in the Pacific Northwest, in particular thriving in areas of heavy rainfall.
Wild Cherry Trees
Cherry trees, believe it or not, are somewhat toxic in all parts of the tree except the fruit, and only then when it is ripe. The seeds, leaves, and bark all contain cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause anxiety, headaches, vomiting, and dizziness. In very severe cases, poisoning can even lead to death.
This tree can be easily recognized by its distinctive bunches of white flowers, which begin to appear in early spring, and of course, it’s notable fruit. The leaves are serrated and have small red glands at the edge of each one. While it’s unlikely any human would end up eating the bark of a cherry tree, it’s still important to make sure pets such as dogs and horses don’t get too near.
Pacific Yew Tree
The Pacific Yew Tree contains an alkaloid toxin which, when ingested, attacks cardiac function. It is notorious among veterinarians for the harm that it does to livestock and pets; you should take great care if you ride horses on the trails or bring your dog on your hike.
While the Pacific Yew Tree actually has benefits to humans as well – for example, the bark of the tree is processed into paclitaxel, which is actually used in cancer treatments! – ingesting any part of the plant is highly toxic to both humans and animals.
The Pacific Yew generally grows to around thirty feet in height or more and has a thin, scaly bark. It has distinctive thin leaves, red berries, and seed cones. It is found all across the Pacific Northwest; along the coast of Washington and Oregon, with its range extending into Canada. It grows well in both sun and shade.
Avoiding Poisonous Plants
The first step to avoiding poisonous plants is to learn to recognize them. Once you do, the next step is to keep your family and pets away from any toxic plants or trees. Needless to say, you should avoid eating any of the seeds or berries yourself as well.
In most cases, avoiding the dangerous plants is relatively easy, but you may occasionally notice that they are growing on your property. If you wish, you can contact a tree service to have any poisonous trees or other toxic plants removed.
Here at Mr. Tree, we provide a great service to take advantage of in the Vancouver and Portland area. Our team of professional arborists can help you remove a poisonous tree quickly and safely, if need be, and provide other services such as stump removal to help you plant new trees.
With assistance from a trusted tree service, you can ensure the health and safety of your pets and family, even in an area where there are toxic plants.