Saturday, July 07, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

I love my gas plant. I got it a couple of years ago and have been so smitten with the citrusy smell of the foliage, the compact and neat form of the plant, as well as the beautiful, long-lasting flower display starting sometime around Memorial Day as most of my tulips are fading away.

And I have been reading many posts from other gardeners who have discovered this most awesome plant. Many may even know why it is called a gas plant. The plant emits a flammable vapor; which on calm days, it is said, can actually be lit. It burns a beautiful blue and doesn't hurt the plant. I've never tried it myself, but I believe it.

Now, you may be thinking, "A plant that theoretically could burst into flames? Sign me up!"

But I have a warning for all you gardeners who, like me, have fallen in love with the beautiful gas plant. Bursting into flames isn't the only trick this plant has up it's sleeve.

I found out the hard way that if it can't get you with actual fire, it will attack you with a chemical that is photo sensitive and will actually cause your skin to burn and blister if exposed to sunlight after contact.

This has happened to me two years in a row! Last year when it happened I didn't realize what the blisters and dark markings were actually from. I thought maybe poison ivy, but it wasn't spreading as it notoriously does, and it really didn't itch that much unless I was out in the sun or the area got heated somehow.

The blisters lasted for about a month and the dark marks lasted for a few months. I was actually beginning to think that they might be permanent!

Over the winter, I read a few articles about gas plants to see how to propagate them. That was when I discovered that brushing against their foliage could cause skin irritation. They really didn't get into details about how bad it would irritate your skin, though. I have a few plants in my garden that give me a minor rash that lasts a couple of days if I have too much contact with them - no biggie, right? So, when I was pulling weeds around my gas plant a week ago and got scratched by it, I thought no biggie.

Boy was I wrong! In a couple of days, I had the same welts, blisters and dark markings that I had been plagued with most of last summer! I had even washed my arms after the scratching and that didn't seem to have done much to stop it.

On the up side, it doesn't seem to spread (although I am still careful of cross contamination) and calamine does seem to help. Also, although I need to research this a little more, it seems that the volatile chemicals appear with the seed heads. I have touched and brushed up against this plant many times every spring and during flowering and never a reaction. The reaction I got last year was at approximately the same time in June that I got it this year.

I am keeping my plant and haven't completely scrapped the idea of getting a few more (even though my husband is urging me to stay away from them). They are a great plant, I just have to be aware to beware not to be fooled by its beauty; this is one beast of a plant!

an additional article with similar experience Added 05/30/2009


Blogger Marie (FKA Piana Nanna) said...

I was ready at first to go out right away and get one. But now you've scared me away. It looks very pretty though.

7/08/2007 6:06 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Marie, it is a pretty nasty irritation, but I think I may have found a remedy for it - and one that can also be found in my garden!

The jewelweed is supposed to be one of the most effective plant chemical neutralizer there is, and I actually didn't get around to ripping it out this year! I have already begun treating with it and I'll post an update on the effectiveness.

7/08/2007 11:17 PM  
Blogger Ladyseashells said...

I've heard about poison ivy but not gas plant, thanks for the warning tips. Hope your blisters heal faster.

7/11/2007 11:11 AM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

Wow...that plant's a downright criminal! Sure is purty, though.

PS: are you being overrun with earwigs in your part of the state? I am up to my ears in them. Pun sadly intended.

7/11/2007 9:58 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

LadySeaShells, the jewelweed did the trick! Right after I used it, the blisters started drying up. I'm going to make sure to take care of my jewelweed patch from now on!

Jess, strangely enough, I would still recommend this plant. As long as a person is aware of its dangers they can easily overcome them - gloves and long sleeves while handling isn't too much to ask to have such a beautiful plant. I need as much handling roses too. Also, growing a big patch of jewelweed wouldn't hurt either!

Haven't noticed any earwigs, but the box elder beetles were really bad this year!

7/14/2007 12:13 AM  
Blogger Alice said...

Sylvana - do you know its botanical name? I just want to make sure I don't get one, pretty and all as it is. I could do without the skin decorations that it seems to give so freely.

Hope you are not dying of heat exhaustion yet. Perhaps I could send you just a little bit of frost?

7/19/2007 5:32 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Alice, Dictamnus. It really is pretty and smells nice - citrusy. But I am really regretting weeding around it so carelessly.

It was actually really cool for most of the day today - but it is supposed to be in the high 80s and 90s (F) over the next ten days. So send that frost!!

7/19/2007 11:04 PM  
Blogger IBOY said...

You know, I've always heard that about gas plants, but have never seen it... I wonder, though, if there's a chance that you ran into some poison ivy while weeding. I've cleared it and cleared it out of our garden, but birds drop seeds, and every year a dozen or so new poison ivy plants will pop up here and there; pretty easy to brush against when it's hidden in a flower bed (my personal experience).

9/30/2007 9:19 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Iboy, there are lots of nettles in my garden, but absolutely no poison ivy. I know that the reaction looks a lot like poison ivy, but it is missing one thing - the spreading! Where I scratched my arm on the dictamnus was exactly where the reaction occured and no where else. I have read that some people are more sensitive to the chemicals in the plant than others, so perhaps I am one of the really sensitive people. it would make sense, I am very sensitive to chemicals in general.

9/30/2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger IBOY said...

Interesting... the garden can be hazardous place! A wild plant that's really bad news is cow parsnip; it has an intense phototoxin in its juice. it's gotten to be a rather bad invasive here in the midwest, and we have to remove a lot of it from our nature preserves; I dress up like a Martian for that job!

10/01/2007 3:03 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Iboy, my friend told me about wild parsnip when he saw my arm. He said that the reaction looked similar. And I can see why, since they are both phototoxins.

10/03/2007 9:56 PM  

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