The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Allergic to Poison ivy? Watch Out for Mangos!

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The perfect summer vacation destination? Florida may not be on everyone's list, but for me Florida in July means beaches with warm gulf waters and backyards with fresh mangoes. Giant orbs of juicy joy waiting to be picked off of backyard trees. I love mangoes. However this year I discovered mangoes don't share the love.

Upon my arrival in Florida in July the first task is to check out the mango crop. They were ripe and ready to be ravaged. In the past I had always peeled mangoes first then cut up the fruit to eat. This year I ate slices with the peel intact. Bad mistake.

Within a couple hours my top lipped started to swell. As I pondered the cosmetic beauty of my new Lindsay Lohan lips I remembered a discussion a year ago that mangoes are in the same plant family as poison ivy. I am allergic to poison ivy so you would think this would have stuck in my mind. My desire for mango flesh clouded my memory. I had eaten mangoes before and hadn't had a problem. Ok once I picked them and got a rash on my arm. It was just a little rash and did I mention I love mangoes.

Although some people can have allergies to the flesh of mangoes, for most it is the mango's skin. Mango skin, bark and leaves contain the same toxic substance, urushiol, as in poison ivy. You may not be gorging yourself on mangoes, but poison ivy is a common plant in forested areas and your backyard. Poison ivy forms berries that birds enjoy. New plants often appear on fencerows, next to trees or near bird baths.

Poison ivy is a woody perennial plant that may grow dwarf and erect or vine through trees or along fences. The leaves are alternate on the stem and are divided into three oval shaped leaflets that may be lobed or toothed.

The poison in poison ivy is found in roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruits. The stems can be a problem even in winter. Infection occurs from contacting broken parts of the plant, but can also occur from handling infected clothing, shoes or even petting dogs. Poison ivy should never be burned.

The intense irritation and blisters follow contact. Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours, but may appear in a few hours or a few days. The rash and blisters may appear at different times because the poison can absorb into skin at different rates. The blisters may break and release a liquid, but the liquid cannot cause more blisters and it is not contagious. The liquid does not contain the irritating urushiol.

The amount of poison available in the plant can vary. In a drought year the toxins can be more concentrated. You can also be reinfected by touching contaminated clothing or pets. Wash any exposed clothing in hot soapy water and not with the family wash.

According to the booklet Pesky Plants by Thor Kommedahl, the reaction of the poison with the skin is nearly instantaneous. However, immediately washing with strong soaps or rubbing alcohol can remove any excess poison that might be transferred to other parts of the body. Soap or alcohol is needed to remove the oils. I like to take moist towelettes and hand sanitizer when I'm hiking, just in case.

People vary in their allergic reactions. Poison ivy and mangoes are no different. Always check with your health care provider if you have any questions about diagnosis and treatment. I've decided not to use mango skin as a cheap lip enhancement treatment. So now I just need to find someone to prepare my mangoes.

Next week I will discuss how to rid your yard of pesky poison ivy.

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