Plentiful rainfall in California this spring created an ideal environment for many plants to thrive, including wildflowers, trees, and shrubs that desperately needed the water. However, other potentially harmful species also benefited from the unusually wet weather. Of particular concern are poisonous plants which are growing abundantly in parks and wildlands this year. These plants pose health risks to people, especially children, and pets. Being able to identify poisonous plants and understand available control options is critical for the safety of people who encounter them. While several poisonous plants grow in California, a few of the more common are detailed below along with information on how best to remove or manage them.
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is an invasive weed that thrives in disturbed areas but it can also invade native plant communities. It is commonly found in meadows, pastures, and fields, and may spread quickly after the rainy season. All parts of the plant are toxic to humans and animals when ingested. Touching poison hemlock may cause contact dermatitis for some people.
Poison hemlock can easily be mistaken for its relatives in the family Apiaceae, like carrot, parsley, parsnip, or celery, especially when plants are young. Leaves are triangular shaped, deeply lobed, and have opposite branching (Figure 1). Unlike invasive wild carrot (Daucus carota), poison hemlock lacks hairs on its leaves and stems. Poison hemlock has white, umbrella-shaped flowers, similar to those of native cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum). However, cow parsnip has much wider leaves that are arranged in threes and can measure up to 16 inches wide. You can also distinguish poison hemlock from similar plants by checking for purple streaks or spots along its hollow stems. Mature plants can reach almost 10 feet tall.
Poison hemlock is best controlled when young, before it sets seed. It releases seeds over several months, and copious amounts of seed can build up in the soil. Small infestations of poison hemlock can be managed by hand removal while wearing gloves or hoeing the area. The taproot must also be removed to prevent regrowth. Repeatedly mowing poison hemlock can deplete its energy and prevent seed production. Be sure to clean mower blades to avoid moving seeds to new areas. Herbicides containing 2,4-D, triclopyr, or imazapyr work best on seedlings. Glyphosate, chlorsulfuron, and metsulfuron are effective on larger, rapidly growing plants. Repeated herbicide applications may be required for several years until the seedbank has been depleted. Never burn poison hemlock as this can release its toxins into the air.
Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a deciduous native plant that is widespread through California's coastlands, woodlands, rangelands, riparian areas, and urban parks and gardens. Poison oak, like its eastern relative poison ivy, contains an oil called urushiol that can cause contact dermatitis and itchy, weeping rashes on the skin of people who are sensitive to urushiol. The allergy-causing oils can persist on tools, clothing, and other objects for months or even years.
The old adage “leaves of three, let it be” often holds true for poison oak, but not always. Plants normally consist of 3 leaflets, but may sometimes contain 5, 7, or 9. Leaves are slightly lobed and occur alternately along the stem (Figure 2). They can vary in color and texture from glossy to dull, and thin to leathery. In open, sunny areas poison oak can grow to be a dense shrub. In more shaded areas it grows as a climbing vine. It can easily spread to cover large areas via seeds and rhizomes.
Poison oak can be removed through hand pulling and digging (including roots) with a shovel; wear protective clothing and gloves, and promptly wash or discard them afterwards. Removed plants should be carefully disposed of since the oils remain hazardous even after the plants have dried. Never burn or mow poison oak as it will release its oils into the air, posing an inhalation risk. Herbicides that contain at least 41% glyphosate or 61% triclopyr ester have been shown to provide effective control. Dicamba and imazapyr can also be used. Foliar applications should be made in the late spring or late summer, depending on the chemical used. Cut-stump treatments can be performed in the spring or fall.
Burning and Stinging Nettles
Unlike poison oak and poison hemlock which may only affect some people, burning and stinging nettles (Table 1) cause burning rashes to anyone who touches them. The rashes are caused by a toxin in the prickly hairs on the leaves and stems. Contact with burning and stinging nettles can cause blisters and red patches. Itching, burning, and tingling sensations may persist on the affected skin for several hours.
|Burning nettle||Stinging nettle|
|Found in disturbed sites, roadsides, orchards, and gardens; common along the coast||Found in unmanaged areas, riverbanks, moist wildlands, and roadsides|
|Summer annual; blooms January to April||Perennial; blooms March to September|
|Spreads by seed||Spreads by seed and rhizomes|
|5 inches to 2 feet tall when mature||3½ to 10 feet tall when mature|
|Opposite leaves with toothed margins; ½ inch to 2 inches long (Figure 3)||Opposite leaves with toothed margins; 2½ to 5 inches long|
Burning and stinging nettles can be nuisance plants as well as health hazards. However, they are not considered invasive or noxious weeds. In fact, stinging nettle is native to California so control should only be performed if plants are causing economic or health concerns. Hand pulling while wearing gloves can be effective, but the underground stems (rhizomes) of stinging nettle must also be removed. Mowing close to the ground can prevent seed development and spread, but if done too early in the season the nettles will regrow rapidly from the rhizomes. The active ingredients 2,4-D, aminopyralid, dicamba, glyphosate, and triclopyr provide excellent control for both stinging and burning nettles.
To learn more about controlling these toxic weeds in landscapes and natural areas, see the Weeds page on the UC IPM website at ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.weeds.html or the Weed Research Information Center wric.ucdavis.edu. These and other weeds are described in the book Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States, available from the UC ANR catalog anrcatalog.ucanr.edu./h2>/h2>/h2>
Did you know that disinfectants and sterilizers are pesticides? Any substance that claims to kill, destroy, prevent, or repel a pest, including germs, is considered a pesticide. So cleaning products that claim to sterilize or kill germs on surfaces or be effective against bacteria like E. coli or others, must be registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA ensures pesticide products are effective and do not pose unreasonable risks to consumers when used according to the label, among other things. Recently, the EPA settled a lawsuit against Grocery Outlet Inc. for selling unregistered cleaning products claiming to be disinfectants and sterilizers. To know whether a product is a registered pesticide, look for the EPA registration number on the label. As with any pesticide product, always read and follow the label so the product can be used as safely and effectively as possible.
UC IPM is committed to educating the public on pesticides and their alternatives. View some of UC IPM's resources about antimicrobial pesticides and pesticide safety below, as well as in-depth resources from the U.S. EPA.
- What You Need to Know About Disinfectant Wipes (blog post)
- Using Disinfectants and Sanitizers Safely (blog post)
- Disinfectants are pesticides–so use safely! (blog post)
- What to Wear When Using Pesticides (blog post)
- EPA Registered Disinfectants (webpage)
- About Pesticide Registration (webpage)
- Using Disinfectants and Wipes Safely (webinar)
- What is a Pesticide? (video)
- Why do you need to read the pesticide label? (video)
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
A typical day for Dee Keese starts with a 10-mile walk at 5 a.m. and her morning wraps up with a swim. Although Keese is in her late 70s, her daily routine would not surprise you if you knew what she has been doing for the last 48 years.
For nearly a half-century, Keese has been the 4-H community leader for the Palos Verdes Peninsula (PVP) club in Los Angeles County. A youth development program managed through local University of California Cooperative Extension offices, 4-H uses hands-on learning experiences to empower youth to build self-esteem and connect with their communities as emerging leaders.
“When you're pushing 80, working with young people helps to keep you young,” Keese said.
4-H has been a game changer in many ways
In the 1970s, Keese moved to the Palos Verdes area with her first-born son who had a learning disability. Others treated him differently in school, and it didn't help that he was the new kid in town. A neighbor encouraged Keese to enroll her son in 4-H.
“She told me, ‘You've got to put your son in 4-H so he can feel good about himself,'” explained Keese. “And let me tell you, it changed my life.”
In 1978, two weeks before her fifth child was born, Keese became the 4-H PVP club's community leader and has been in the role ever since.
While reflecting on her earlier days with 4-H, Keese remembered when most members were boys. Girls were not intentionally excluded at the time; clubs just didn't attract them. When girls eventually joined 4-H, it was a game changer.
“All of a sudden, the program shifted focus from solely agriculture and animals to include home economics like cooking and sewing,” Keese said. “Now, all my sons do the cooking in their homes. It's a good thing! Because we're moving away from traditional domestic duties, men and women are sharing roles, as they should be.”
The PVP 4-H club offers activities like archery, sailing, surfing and geocaching. “Everything we do is to help our youth be better as adults, out in the real world and in the workforce,” said Keese. “We're relying on the internet too much. Kids need to get outside and do things.”
Over the years, Keese has taken members – who range in age from 5 to 19 – on numerous hikes in places like Havasupai Indian Reservation and Mt. Whitney. She's taken them kayaking on the Colorado River and, these days, co-hosts old-fashioned card game nights on the weekends with other community members.
As a lifeguard and water safety instructor, Keese gives free training to interested 4-H members to become lifeguards. Training courses usually cost well over $200 per person. “If they're interested, I train them and they have another skill to use. And it benefits our club,” said Keese. “When we have pool parties or beach days, my kids are prepared to step in and help.”
‘She will help anyone and everyone at any time'
Ace Yeck, former president of the PVP 4-H club, met Keese 12 years ago and decided to become a 4-H member when he was in fourth grade, following a convincing conversation with her. “She just kept giving me opportunities,” said Yeck.
Currently a third-year undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University studying entrepreneurship, Yeck credits 4-H for preparing him for college. “I got all my community service and public speaking practice through 4-H. I remember doing beach clean-ups, feeding the homeless, helping out at the Christmas fair, and all kinds of events,” he shared.
During his years with 4-H, Yeck was elected to the state board as an ambassador before he went on to represent 4-H at the national level. “Dee encouraged me every time, so I kept going,” he said.
Keese admitted that her life is so full and fun because of 4-H. Her motivation stems from the growth and progress that her students experience. “My kids let me know when I've done something to impact their life. It keeps me motivated,” she said.
While thinking about the members she's had over the last 48 years, she couldn't help but stress how important it is that they feel safe. Keese recalls one student who is gay and had a challenging time getting his parents to understand because of religious and cultural barriers. “The family's priest called me and told me that this student felt like I was the only one who loved him,” she said.
“I can talk about Dee forever,” said Yeck. “One of her best qualities is that she will help anyone and everyone at any time. She wakes up at 5 a.m. and goes to bed at, like, 10 p.m. During that time, she's always helping people,” he added.
Because Keese comes from a different generation compared to the kids in her 4-H club, she attributes her successful impact to her ability to adapt. “If we want to keep kids in this, we've got to be flexible! And you've got to do things they like. We can't do things the way it's always been done before,” said Keese. “We have to be flexible.”
To Keese, 4-H is not just an opportunity to teach life skills or introduce kids to agriculture. It's a chance for them to build community.
“That's what I think my generation does well, having grown up in the '50s and '60s,” Keese said. “We're all about that communal living.”
With Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) on the rise, and Covid-19 and the flu remaining constant worries, disinfectant products are more and more likely to be used in the home, office, school, restaurant, and other public areas. Though these products are useful in reducing harmful pathogens, they are also capable of harming us when used incorrectly.
You may not think twice when spraying a surface with a disinfectant or using a disinfectant wipe without wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Disinfectant products ARE pesticides, so check the label to see if you should be wearing gloves or other protective equipment.
To learn more about safe use of disinfectants and wipes, watch the recording from our most recent webinar with Meredith Cocks from the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC).
Be sure to check out the UC IPM webinars planned for 2023 and register for these free, educational events!
Today, amid a pandemia-battered labor market and a deep crisis across the food industry chain, it is crucial to reduce barriers to employment and pay attention to the problem of sexual harassment. This problem occurs most often in low-paying, male-dominated jobs such as agriculture.
Recent research from the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California UC ANR found that 30 percent of female workers at nine wine industry companies in Napa Valley reported some form of sexual harassment at their current job. They are young women under the age of 40, several temporary employees who usually work in small groups throughout the camp where sexist and hostile jokes and comments are frequently heard.
- Sexual harassment in agriculture is a historically neglected problem that is gaining economic relevance in the current context of agriculture, an industry dealing with labor shortages.
- The lack of a workforce is a severe problem, considered by several experts as the main challenge in food production.
- The shortage of male migrant workers would be even worse without increasing the female workforce.
"Women need to feel safe to be productive, and with the critical lack of labor in agriculture, this industry needs to make sure it retains these workers," Hobbs said.
Research indicates that between 40 and 75 percent of all working women in this country have experienced some form of sexual harassment, and this has not decreased since the 1980s. Even worse, the problem often occurs in low-paying jobs that men dominate.
Sexual harassment is unwanted behavior that the victim perceives as offensive that threatens their well-being. "It's a barrier that not only harms the victim but other workers at the company, and I should add that sexual harassment is not something that happens only to women but also to men, but this was not the focus of our study," Hobbs said.
- Gender-based harassment – jokes, comments, or suggestive stories that are offensive, or different treatment for being a woman (contempt or ignoring the woman)
- Unwanted sexual attention – requesting a date or inviting drinks even though you were told NO. Touching or groping the person.
- Sexual coercion – bribing the employee in exchange for engaging in sexual behavior (offering a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor)
- Hostile Sexism - comments or acts that are interpreted by women as sexist (for example: "Women are easily offended"; "women do not appreciate everything that men do for them"; "Women exaggerate the problems they have at work."
In agriculture, labor shortages are not a new problem. Since before the pandemic, they have been present and have been reduced thanks to the increase in women workers.
In 2017, Napa Valley vineyards employing an average of 100,000 workers had a shortage of 12 percent workers, and this would have been worse without the workers. "More women are working than there were 20 years ago, and this change in the gender of workers that I describe in Napa is also happening to some degree on the California Coast," he says.
The research highlights that between 2013 and 2016, the proportion of working women increased in Napa Valley vineyards from 10 to 25 percent.
"The economic motivation is, therefore, stronger than ever for agricultural companies to reduce barriers to employment and retain female workers, and sexual harassment in the workplace is a barrier to employment," Hobbs says. These women are indispensable to fill the vacancies that used to be filled by immigrant workers that have declined in recent years."
The research involved 195 men and 100 women, all Hispanics. The nine companies surveyed have more than 50 employees each; in seven of them, subcontracted labor is used, and in 2 vineyards, their employees are directly employed. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish. Of the 30 percent of women who reported experiencing sexual harassment, 9 percent said unwanted sexual attention and 1 percent sexual coercion.
"The fact that harassment is more prevalent among young women is an indicator that harassment is an obstacle to expanding the workforce because they are women who are starting to work," he said.
He explained that the relatively low percentage of sexual harassment found in this research compared to other research could be because the wine industry usually offers better wages and better working conditions than other workplaces.
Hobbs concludes that this research is an approach to a complex labor problem that requires more attention, and possibly the next step will be to analyze the overall work environment, addressing the hostile sexist attitudes of workers and evaluating the entire organization, which seems to be the most promising thing to reduce harassment in agriculture. "The conditions in which the workers are currently working makes them more vulnerable, the training help, but there are changes that must be executed. Changes have to be made throughout the organization," concluded the expert.
This investigation was carried out thanks to the collaboration of the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at the University of California, Davis, offers all kinds of training on agricultural safety. An integral part of this report was a podcast where Teresa Andrews, the Center's Education and Community Outreach Specialist, talks extensively about what harassment is, what the law says about harassment, and what to do when you have been bullied. Here's the link to the podcast.