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Rash from pruning holly?

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#1 Janet Macunovich

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Posted 03 April 2006 - 07:31 PM

The following came from my discussions with neighbors, mentioned in the April 1, 2006 Growing Concerns. I asked, "Do you grow holly? How do you prune it?"

One response I received was, "I thought you can't cut holly. Doesn't it cause a rash or it's poisonous or something lik that?"

Hmmm. My sources don't mention holly a a skin irritant. They do warn against eating the fruit, although those warnings are on the mild side, such as:

"The fruit is poisonous. The leaves are non-toxic and, in many species, are brewed for their content of caffeine (or other xanthines... Poisoning causes nausea and multiple episodes of vomiting with occasional diarrhea.... Conservative management is adequate for gastroenteritis and includes administration of fluids to prevent dehydration in young children." (AMA Guide to Poisonous and Injurious Plants)

I have certainly scratched myself on holly but not heard of rashes.

Can you comment - have you or do you have firsthand knowledge of anyone who has developed a rash from contact with holly?
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#2 chris55



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Posted 07 April 2006 - 10:17 AM

We have 4 holly bushes, and every December someone in my family cuts some branches for indoor decoration. That's usually the only prunning I do, and no one here has ever gotten a rash. Two of my kids have pretty sensitive skin, but the holly doesn't bother them. However, there is something in my garden that gives me a rash when I brush up against it. I suspect the rue bush/shrub.

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#3 Guest_celiaryker_*

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Posted 07 April 2006 - 11:18 AM

I have become pretty sensitive to rash in my old age but have never had a reaction to holly when I prune it.

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#4 Janet Macunovich

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 12:40 PM

Rue does cause a rash -- it's a burn that develops when skin smeared with even a bit of rue oil is exposed to sun. All it takes is bare skin touching a leaf on a sunny or hot day when the oils are at the leaf surface. Every time I've had this burn or seen it, there have been no blisters, just areas that become red by the next day, and tender to touch and heat. My hnds don't react much but my face and insides of my arms burn from this contact. When once I inadvertently backed up into rue while wearing shorts, didn't even know I'd done it, got the oil in the backs of my knees and stayed outdoors all day, the burns on that rarely-exposed skin were so bad I couldn't wear long pants for a week. Very young children, with skin not toughened by time and various encounters with the world at large, can develop very deep burned areas that are very painful.

Flush the skin with cool water immediately after coming into contact with rue, and keep that skin covered from sun, and you may escape the rash.

Gas plant (Dictamnus albus) is another plant with leaf oil that can cause the same problem. The sap of Myrtle euphorbia (Euphorbia myrsinites) works the same way.
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