Poison Outing

Chris.Holstege.crop.picAbout 20 of us met at Sherando Lake Recreation Area on Sunday, June 19 for a program on “Poisonous Plants, Mushrooms and Animals in our National Forests” offered by Wild Virginia and led by Dr. Chris Holstege, director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center.

After an introduction to some of the poisonous plants that grow in Virginia, we took off on a hike around the Upper Lake, where Dr. Holstege pointed out some of the poisonous plants to be found there. Along the way, he explained how some of the toxins in plants affect you if ingested. He also pointed out a number of common misconceptions about poisons, for example, that you can get poison ivy by brushing against the intact leaves. According to Dr. Holstege, the leaves must be damaged first, which is why people at the back of a line of hikers are more likely to be affected than those at the front.

There are also many misconceptions about how to treat snakebites: suction, tourniquets, ice, cutting, etc, none of which are effective. In most cases, the best thing to do is to support the affected area and try to get to treatment as quickly as possible.

It turns out deaths from poisonous snakes or insects in Virginia are practically unheard of. In most cases, the bite will cause pain and discomfort, but these go away eventually (though not fast enough for the affected person!) In fact, the most serious threats to humans from the animal world are bees, wasps and … dogs.

With plants and mushrooms, it’s a different story; there are a number of things that will kill you if you ingest them (notably, certain of the Amanita mushrooms, but also some varieties of Hemlock, etc). My personal policy is not to eat anything unless I’m sure of its origin!

All-in-all, this was a very informative and enjoyable outing.

– Carl Droms, Cohort II

Photos by Carl Droms