Fort McCoy News July 25, 2014

Be aware of hazardous plants at, around Fort McCoy

Fort McCoy is are home to several species of hazardous plants that can cause adverse physical reactions if any person comes in contact with them.

Photo of poison ivy
Contact with plants like poison ivy can cause adverse skin reactions.

Wild parsnip.

Poison sumac.

Photo of poison sumac
Leafy spurge. Photos by Tim Wilder

According to Tim Wilder, endangered species biologist for Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch, four species of hazardous plants exist on the installation. Poison sumac and poison ivy both are native species, while leafy spurge and wild parsnip are invasive species.

"Poison ivy and poison sumac have oils (Urushiol) that can cause a severe skin reaction," Wilder said. Wild parsnip has a phototoxin. If this substance comes in contact with skin and then exposed to sunlight, a rash or blistering occurs. Leafy spurge has a milky sap that can cause a skin reaction. If large amounts come in contact with eyes, possible blindness may result.

Wilder said anyone who comes in contact with these plants should wash exposed skin with soap and water. "Wash your clothes too, since the oils may still be on the clothes, and you will be exposed again if you wear them without washing," he said.
Hazardous plants are located throughout the post.

"Poison sumac is a shrub-like plant that is found growing in wetlands along streams or within or along marsh edges," Wilder said. "Not all wetlands on the installation contain poison sumac."

Poison ivy, Wilder said, grows in a variety of areas to include forests, forest edges, floodplains and openings.

"I observe poison ivy on Fort McCoy most often in road ditches or along forest edges," Wilder said. "Wild parsnip is normally found growing in disturbed areas like roadside ditches where there is slightly more moisture than most upland sites. Leafy spurge is found mostly in forest openings, grassland, disturbed fields and road ditches."

As far as controlling the spread of hazardous plants, Wilder said most work efforts concentrate on the invasive species. Since poison ivy and poison sumac both are native plants and little has been done to eradicate them from the installation.

"We have tried to educate those who might be working or recreating in areas where they could come into contact with these plants," Wilder said. "We show people how to identify them and what to do if you do come into contact with them."

Wilder outlined efforts to combat wild parsnip and leafy spurge.

"In the last 10 years, we have greatly reduced the amount of wild parsnip on the installation," he said. "It is now found only in a few small populations. Since this plant does occur outside of the installation, we will continue to look for new populations that may occur on post and treat them as soon as they are found.

"Leafy spurge is well established on the installation," Wilder said. "Treatment methods include the use of herbicides in selected areas and the use of biological controls in others."

Biological controls involve the use of insects that feed on leafy spurge plants, he said. Some insects defoliate the plants while others are root borers that weaken the plant.

"These insects will not eradicate leafy spurge, but will help prevent the continued spread of this plant so that it does not dominate the landscape," Wilder said.

Prevention is the best medicine when dealing with hazardous plants, Wilder said.

"Prevention — which generally is avoidance — is best," Wilder said. "If you are going to be out and about in areas where these plants exist, then you need to know which plant species you need to be concerned about. Then you need to be able to identify them in order to avoid contact."

If contact with the plants is unavoidable, wearing heavy long pants, long-sleeved shirt, gloves and barrier creams or lotions may help protect people.

Full descriptions of each of the hazardous plants occurring at Fort McCoy, can be found at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant website, Use the search bar to type the plant name you are seeking information about, such as "poison ivy."

For more information about hazardous plants at Fort McCoy, stop by the Permit Sales Office in building 2168 and pick up a pamphlet, or call Wilder at 608-388-5679.

(Information courtesy of the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch.)