Scorpion Weed: Be cautious of this purple flower

There are two types of Scorpion Weed, one is completely harmless, while the other can cause a rash.
While it may be pretty to look at, it can cause a rash similar to poison ivy if you come in contact with it.
Published: Apr. 9, 2023 at 7:25 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Arizona’s mountains and trails are covered in colorful wildflowers, and experts want people to be cautious of one purple flower they may come across, scorpion weed.

While it may be pretty to look at, it can cause a rash similar to poison ivy if you come in contact with it.

“First rule of thumb is, to the extent possible, stay on the trail and don’t mess with any of the wildflowers,” said Jonathan Horst, director of conservation and research with Tucson Audubon. “If you’re out hiking, and you see these pretty flowers that have these little curls on them, you want to be able to know which ones you don’t have to worry about at all, or which ones you want to try and avoid as much as possible.”

It is called scorpion weed because of the curls on the flower that resemble a scorpion’s tail. Experts said there are two types to watch out for. The first type is completely harmless.

“The flowers are a little bit of a lighter colored purple, and the anther with the pollen is actually purple. So, if it’s got big, separated leaves, and flowers with purple pollen, it’s okay to mess with it,” said Horst.

In contrast, experts advise people to keep a distance from the second type.

“The leaves have lobes, but they don’t have separate leaflets on them. The real kicker for identifying the one that you don’t want to mess with has these dark purple flowers that have yellow pollen on him,” said Horst.

For individuals who come in contact with the second type, it can lead to a rash similar to poison ivy. This rash can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

“To the extent possible, I wouldn’t suggest walking through it. I wouldn’t suggest picking it. It’s a native plant, there’s no reason to get rid of it. It’s just doing its thing out in the environment, but the more times you’re exposed to it, the faster of an allergy you’re more likely to develop,” said Horst.

If you do come in close contact with it, experts say do not panic. Immediately following the contact, wash your hands or the exposed body part.

“Anywhere that does get exposed, especially if you’re hiking, before any type of rash develops, when you get home, get a nice soapy rag. Rub it down with the soapy rag first and then wash that off with cold water and rinse it a number of times,” said Horst.

Experts added that there is some positive news when it comes to this plant. It will not pose a risk to this year’s wildfire season.

“When these plants dry up, they dry up really quickly, and these leaves are really thin. So when they dry up, they just fall apart. So if there is a whole big field of these and most of our other native wildflowers, as soon as they get dry, there’s not enough actual carbon material there to carry a wildfire,” said Horst.

For individuals with pets that come into contact with the flowers, you are advised to give them a bath, preferably with gloves to keep yourself protected.