Flower danger: 'If you touch it, it's going to get you'

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Source of this article - The Orange County Register, March 23, 2008.

Purple-flowered poodle-dog bush, growing in burn areas, is hazard to humans.

By EUGENE W. FIELDS

A pretty purple-flowered bush blooming on the hills of the burned areas in Santiago and Modjeska canyons is a danger to people, according to the Department of Forestry.

The flower, commonly known as poodle-dog bush, is an irritant akin to poison oak, said forester Eric Oldar.

Note added July 22, 2011: There are reports of lots of this plant growing along the trails of the 2009 Station Fire burn area.

"This time of the year, the floral stalk is brilliant and it's very attractive, especially along hiking trails or roads where people make a stop," Oldar said. "They'll go out and actually pick it and take it home as a flower arrangement, not knowing that contact, for the vast majority of the public, will cause a poison oak reaction."

Symptoms range from itching to a rash or blisters lasting as long as two weeks. George Ewan with the Orange County Fire Authority said the pain is reminiscent to coming in contact with stinging nettles.

"It's like that that except it doesn't wear off," Ewan said. "It goes for quite a while."

Oldar said the bush is typically dormant, but bloomed as a result of the Santiago Canyon fire in October.

"It becomes prevalent after a major disturbance like fire or something that takes the area back to the barren ground," Oldar said. "It will blossom, grow, and eventually be replaced by other dominant vegetation until another disturbance occurs."

Oldar said the prevalence period could last as long as a decade, which is one of the reasons his department is trying to get the word out about the bush. Another reason is because of the attractiveness of the flower.

"This time of year, it can be a greater attracting to the public," he said. "Later in the season, the flowers drop and the shrub will continue to exist, but it has no particular characteristic that would cause the public to come in contact with it."

Oldar said people should go to their doctor if they start to itch. An over-the-counter remedy is calamine lotion or anything that has a cortisone derivative.

Ewan said avoidance is the best remedy.

"If you're going to go out into the foothills or into the burn area, be careful," he said. "There's a cute little flower out there that's purple and if you touch it, it's going to get you."