Close this search box.

Word of the Week: Urushiol

Like what you see? Share this post

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Urushiol [you-ROO-shee-all] (noun): An oily mixture of organic compounds with allergenic properties found in plants of the family Anacardiaceae, especially Toxicodendron spp. (e.g. poison oak, poison ivy, poison sumac.)

In High Park, we don’t have poison oak or poison sumac, but we do have LOTS of poison ivy. This plant is best known for causing some serious itchiness for hikers who venture off-trail and this is because of the urushiol found in the plant.

Not only is this oily substance concentrated in the leaves, it is also in all parts of the plant. This means that you are at risk of that itchy allergic reaction year-round if you are not careful!

With that being said, it’s important to know what poison ivy looks like:

Winter- Woody stem (sometimes with white berries)

Spring- Woody stem, 3 leaflets that are various shades of reddish/orange

Summer- Woody stem, 3 green leaflets

Fall- Woody stem, 3 falling leaflets that are yellowish/orange

If you happen to touch poison ivy and get urushiol on your body, it’s important that you wear protective gloves and use soap and water to thoroughly wash the parts of your body which might be affected. Cold water is best as hot water can open your pores up and increase your body’s ability to absorb the urushiol.

If you got urushiol on your clothes, carefully remove the clothing item, wash it in hot soapy water, and hang it to dry for several days. You may need to repeat washing to make sure that all of it has come out.

On all of your future visits to the High Park, remember to stay on the hiking trails as poison ivy can be found growing almost everywhere!