Beauty and the Beast
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