You’re Gonna Need an Ocean of Calamine Lotion

By Darren

This past weekend the Outdoor Types traveled to a new site for us, Chilao Campground in Angeles National Forest. And, wow. Beautiful place, and so easy to get to from our respective places of residence.

Shortly after arriving Friday evening, Heather and I noticed a few signs posted by the restrooms. The first one was something about some kind of plant to watch out –

Yikes! Does that other sign say there are rattlesnakes in the area?! Holy cow! We better be careful!

Whatever that other sign says about the plant, well, I’m sure it’s not important. Now, let’s go build our campfire.

Skip to late Saturday afternoon when I got the idea that it might be fun to take a brief hike down the hill from where we were staying. So off Steve, Heather and I went. Heather turned back early, but Steve and I plunged ahead, encountering the sad damage caused by the 2009 Station Fire, exploring an empty ravine and taking pictures of our spectacular surroundings.

When we got back to our campsite, Heather greeted us with, “Yeah, you know that sign by the bathroom that says to watch out for a plant? Well, we just walked right through it, and it’s supposed to be worse than poison oak.”

Steve and I blinked at each other. Not only had we encountered this plant, the two of us waded up to our necks through an entire forest of the stuff. Well, neck for me. More like armpit for Steve. See, I’m a lil’ guy. Built like a jockey.

Okay, so here’s the point of this post: When you see warning signs posted around the campground, read them!

The poodle dog flower sounds cute as a button, but take a look at this:

Poodle Dog Sign

Learn it. Know it. Live it. (Photo by Steve)

I later read an account on the REI Blog from a botanist in the Angeles National Forest who said, contrary to the warning sign at Chilao, symptoms don’t actually appear for three to five days. And wouldn’t you know it; the following Thursday morning, I awoke to red, bumpy, itchy arms. So far it’s not so bad, like a very mild case of poison ivy. But this is apparently what I have to look forward to:


(Photo courtesy of

The National Forest botanist went on to say:

It formed yellow-green, blistery-looking pustules that were oozing. I’d want to keep itching it, so it would bleed. One night it was itching so bad I was scratching my arm on the wall while I was asleep. My husband shook me to wake me up. I was scratching it on the wall in my sleep. How terrible is that?

Uh, that’s pretty terrible.

Poodle dog is totally deceptive. Here’s what it looks like in full bloom:

Poodle Dog in Bloom

Pretty, no?

What we saw was the more dried-up version. Like this:

Dry Poodle Dog

(Photo by Steve.)

As we walked through it, the plant left small, crumb-like bits that stuck to our clothes and skin. Every once in a while, we’d pause to brush the bits off, which just resulted in our stupidly smearing the plant’s toxin all over our skin. Additionally, the poodle dog gives off a distinctive, skunky odor, similar to a marijuana plant. Or how I’m assuming a marijuana plant smells.

For more information on the poodle dog plant, read the REI Blog post, and here’s a Los Angeles Times article from 2011.

Into the Itch

Heather and I just moments before our lives changed. Forever… (Photo by Steve.)