Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Contact-Poisonous Plants of the World

Touching certain plants can be dangerous. Many plants are highly poisonous when ingested, this is common knowledge. It is remarkable, however, that simply touching certain plant species can also be a serious health hazard. The infamous Stinging Nettles are rather harmless in this respect, but there are much more dangerous contact-poisonous plants in many parts of the world, especially in the tropics. They can cause severe pain, rashes, blisters and leave scars. Some trees are reported to be so powerful that even raindrops falling from them can irritate the skin. Other plant species can cause blindness through the smoke of burning wood or by rubbing the eyes after touching the leaves.

This document wants to give a concise overview of all contact-poisonous plants that may be of interest for travellers. Part 1 briefly introduces the active principles, effects, treatments, and geographical distribution. Part 2 describes about 35 important plant species.

Information about this interesting subject is usually hard to find, as it is scattered across many different sources like scientific works about dermatology or botany, regional field guides, travel literature, and magazines. The rare scientific tomes on the subject usually describe thousands of plant species in medical and botanical detail, focusing on their effects on workers who are exposed to the same plant species for years. Only a small number of plants listed there is dangerous after an occasional contact, which means that useful information for travellers is hidden among huge piles of irrelevant data. So the aim of creating this document was to gather, filter, and densify the lots of available information to be useful to travellers.

Latest update: 25 December 2011 (text revised).

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