Pretty, Purple and Poisonous

Photo by John RODARTE The Poodle-dog bush is deceptive in its beauty. It is an irritant that can cause a rash and even blisters if encountered.
Photo by John RODARTE
The Poodle-dog bush is deceptive in its beauty. It is an irritant that can cause a rash and even blisters if encountered.


It is a welcome sight for those who hike and camp in the Angeles National Forest to see vegetation bloom after the devastation of the Station Fire, but there is one plant that although beautiful must be admired from afar.

The Poodle-dog bush is a called a fire flower because it appears after a natural disaster, most likely a fire. It can grow up to eight feet tall and has a thick green stem and dark purple flowers. For hikers and campers, the flowers can be an inviting addition to a picnic table, but then about 10 days later hikers will have an unwanted remembrance of their visit to the Angeles National Forest.

Turricula parryi, meaning little tower, is the technical term for this plant that can cause severe irritation to the skin if touched, similar to poison oak and poison ivy.

When the purple flowers first appeared well over a year ago in the Angeles National Forest, it took some time for those who work, and hike, in the area to realize that the plant was causing problems.

Symptoms can gestate up to 10 days, said Dr. John Rodarte, member of Montrose Search and Rescue team.

It took some time but the link was eventually traced between entering the forest and having a poison oak-type reaction to the Poodle-dog bush. With the mild summer the plant has now blossomed, so to speak, and covers large areas of the forest.

“In some areas it is six to eight feet tall,” Rodarte said. “The Red Box Canyon area is overgrown with Poodle-dog.”

The plant grows at elevations from 100 to 2,300 meters. It is a native California shrub with an unpleasant, slightly pungent odor, according to the U.S. Forest Service ANF website.

It flowers from June to August and at other times it can appear to be droopy with brownish stems topped with green pom-poms. The plant is covered with sticky hairs, which can dislodge easily and can be passed onto hikers who touch it or brush up against it. It can be found along trails, the U.S. Forest Service states.

Rodarte has seen several deputies and MSR members affected but as a pediatrician, he has also seen patients with the malady.

“Several on our team have been affected and there was one Boy Scout troop in the area where the Poodle-dog bush was found,” Rodarte said.

Knowing the danger, once they realized there was Poodle-dog bush around them they broke camp, but not before they one of the boys became affected.

Rodarte advised anyone who hikes into the ANF to wear long sleeves and long pants to protect themselves.

The reaction from being exposed can be mild to severe. Rodarte advised the use of a poison ivy-type wash that can be purchased over the counter if there is a possibility of exposure. However if a rash – or worse, blisters – appear it is advised to see a physician.