Photo by Paul Bodnar
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Poodle Dog Bush: Is the Hype Legit?

No, that's not marijuana. It's poodle dog bush - stay away!

Paul Bodnar             03/08/2019
Paul Bodnar
Medium-sized, flowering poodle dog bush.

Back in 2011 I went out for a Fall training hike in one of the newly-opened Station Fire Burn areas of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. The Station Fire of 2009 was the largest fire in modern Los Angeles County history and had devastating effect. Two firefighters died and over 160,000 acres burned. (You can find a memorial to the firefighters, Tedmund Hall and Arnie Quinones,  just off Mt Gleason Road, which can be reached from a road crossing at Pacific Crest Trail Mile 424.9). The area was completely overgrown in poodle dog bush. Unfortunately I had no idea what poodle dog bush was.

What is poodle dog bush?

Mature poodle dog bush plants: tall stalks and the “poodle head” can be seen here. Notice the burned trees in the background.
Young poodle dog bush plants.

Poodle dog bush, or Eriodictyon parryi, is a shrub found in California. Its seeds can remain dormant in the soil for years. After a fire, the shrub grows quickly and helps prevents soil erosion. It is commonly seen in burn areas along the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California. Its leaves are in bunches reminiscent of a poodle’s head and it blooms in the spring and summer with attractive purple flowers. Size ranges from a few inches high (for a young plant) up to 6 feet / 2 meters high.

Poodle dog bush produces a severe skin irritant (similar to poison oak) that affects about 80% of the population: it can cause blisters lasting several weeks. The hairs on the leaves can stick to your clothing and irritate the skin on secondary contact with your clothing.

My crummy experience with poodle dog bush.

Back to my hike in the Station Fire burn area — did I mention that I didn’t know what poodle dog bush was? It was growing thick across the trail, about chest high. I literally waded through it with unprotected arms. Unfortunately I’m part of the 80% that are badly affected by poodle dog bush. Over the next two weeks I experienced rash, blistering, pain, and extreme itching over my entire body (secondary clothing contact) to a level that puts poison oak to shame. I tried every itch relief ointment and cream available at the pharmacy. Benadryl spray and Calamine lotion helped a little. The itchiness did not disappear completely for about 2 MONTHS.

Poodle dog bush rash and blistering on my forearm.

Poodle dog bush along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Trail crews have done a great job of clearing poodle dog bush away from the Pacific Crest Trail. You no longer have to worry about carefully stepping your way through the plants to avoid contact, at least in the Station Fire area (around Mile 425 of the PCT). We continue to spread the word about poodle dog bush, though, because it’s still out there. We want hikers to be educated in case they come across it. Don’t touch it (including the flowers)! If your clothing or trekking poles come in contact with it, rinse it away if possible.

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About the Author
A man wearing a backpack and carrying an ice axe kneels in the snow.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 40 guides for trails around the world.