There’s a new plant covering the hills and trails above La Cañada Flintridge with fields of gorgeous lavender flowers that have sprouted up in the void left by the 2009 Station fire. But be careful to look, not touch, because this plant, the Poodle Dog Bush, can cause an itchy, burning rash much like poison oak.
Bart O’Brien, director of Special Projects at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, said that the Poodle Dog Bush, Eriodictyon Parryi (also known as Turricula Parryi) tends to grow in abundance after a major fire or other event that disturbs the soil.
“It’s actually one of our more spectacular California native plants. And it’s one that you typically see a couple of years after a big fire and since the fires were in 2009 it make sense that this year and next year will probably be the biggest,” said O’Brien. “They’re spectacular plants and they’re beautiful but it is something that many many people are allergic to.”
Dr. John Rodarte of Descanso Pediatric in La Cañada said he started noticing the Poodle Dog Bush in the Angeles National Forest while volunteering with Montrose Search and Rescue, and has since seen patients who have come into contact with it.
“It’s fairly close to poison oak, it’s just kind of nondescript red, bumpy rash, almost blister-like sometimes,” said Rodarte. “It may take a week or so for it to come out but then it starts spreading anywhere on the body.”
Like with poison-oak, the Poodle Dog Bush’s rash is essentially an allergic reaction, so a percentage of the population will be unaffected by it — but it’s recommend people do not risk touching it to find out whether or not they’re allergic to the plant.
And, Rodarte says, unlike poison oak rash, which lasts a week or two, Poodle Dog Bush rash can last up to a month or longer.
“One of our [Montrose Search and Rescue] team members got the rash and he’s had it for probably going close to a month now.” said Rodarte.
Still, the Poodle Dog Bush isn’t all bad, said O’Brien. Its seeds wait in the soil for up to 100 years waiting for a fire or other disturbance, and their proliferation helps the area recover afterwards.
“It’s a native plant that actually is responsible for doing a lot of the erosion control and so on after a burn,” said O’Brien. “It’s one of the natural things that happens in order to stabilize the soils and enable the long-term plants, the chaparral plants and scrub vegetation to come back in,” said O’Brien.