Friday, May 31, 2013

The Dreaded Poodle Dog Bush!

In parts of nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State park, there are massive stands of tall, impressive plants with towering spikes of pink-to-purple flowers. These plants seem very inviting to visit, especially to a bug-lover like myself, as the nectar draws in a multitude of wasps and bees.

"Don't pet ME!"

But this is no benign plant -- it is the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush (Eriodictyon parryi), a plant that I have seen before on occasion in the Cuyamaca Mountains following the Cedar Fire (even on our own property), but that never lasted more than a season (at least to my eyes). It is dreaded as the entire plant -- stems, leaves and flowers -- is covered in fine hairs, and these hairs when touched by human skin, penetrate and deliver a chemical that brings on symptoms something akin to a combination of poison oak and stinging nettle combined. Being sensitive to both of these other plants, I can sympathize with the misery this would translate to! Intensely itchy blisters that last for days, with some pain as well. Apparently even smelling it can lead to a negative allergic reaction.

The lovely flower spike.

This species is a fire-follower, requiring intense heat for germination of its seeds, and after some controlled burning across from the Paso Picacho Campground in the state park, several big stands of the plant have sprung up. I decided to pay the $8 day use fee this afternoon in order to walk over and photograph the plants.

Unfortunately, possibly too late, I realized as I walked towards the stands, that there were some small, few-inches-high Poodle Dog Bushes along the way, and I may have stepped on them. After getting home, I washed and scrubbed my shoes and carefully stripped off my jeans and socks, in the same way I would do if I had contacted poison oak. Hopefully I escaped unscathed -- it's a delayed reaction, so I guess I'll find out in a couple days.

I also read (after the fact) that breathing the "perfume" can cause a negative reaction. In my photographing the plants, the smell was unmistakable and rather pungent. Again, time will tell if I pay a price for these photos, I guess.

My step-son, Ted is currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and encountered some Poodle Dog Bush in the past few days, and reports that the skin reaction is maddeningly itchy and re-contamination occurs readily from a contaminated sleeping bag! This plant wants to create a huge seed set and not get eaten too much by herbivores while attracting its pollinators. It has an interesting way of achieving this, to be sure.

The tiny hairs are visible here.

The flower spikes are several feet high.

All photos taken in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, across from the Paso Picacho Campground. 


  1. What a name! But really good to know. or I would have followed the pollinators right into the middle of the thicket. I don't think I've seen it on burn sites here yet

    1. Yes, watch out! Not sure what its overall range is...