UKTC Archive

Re: Rhus verniciflua (varnish tree) warning

Subject: Re: Rhus verniciflua (varnish tree) warning
From: Scott Cullen
Date: Dec 27 2006 10:35:06
The variable genus names are a bit confusing.  I'm not much of a taxonomist 
but I THINK these plants were formerly in the Genus Rhus and that a new 
Genus, Toxicodendron was established.  I think its one of those things where 
both may remain in practical use.  Seems to me when I learnt to ID it, poison 
ivy was Rhus toxicodendron (now Rhus radicans).  So has the species become a 

In any case I was amused to see a nice specimen in the National Botanic 
Garden in Dublin, in the Medicinal and Poisonous plants collection and 
surrounded by a fence to keep the unwary from stroking the pretty foliage.  
The Royal Horticultural Society lists it as an ornamental and a number of UK 
nurseries carry it.  

There was some recent buzz that rising atmospheric CO2 levels are resulting 
in more vigourous and more allergenic Rhus plants.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Peter Thurman 
  To: UK Tree Care 
  Sent: Saturday, December 23, 2006 4:53 AM
  Subject: RE: Rhus verniciflua (varnish tree) warning

  That was very bad luck as this tree is quite rare in the UK. In America they
  group some species of Rhus into the genus Toxicodendron. See:

  It looks like they are a serious problem over there:

  I would add that sap of Euphorbiaceae can also be dangerous. Fortunately
  there are no trees of this genus hardy in the UK - but E. mellifera can
  become a large shrub.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: [] 
  Sent: 22 December 2006 20:07
  To: UK Tree Care
  Subject: Rhus verniciflua (varnish tree) warning

  I felled an unfamiliar tree last week, after some debate I had guessed it  
  was a Rhus, but some variety, not typhina. No suckers, and looked like it
  grow too tall to be typhina. 
  Not being familiar with the varnish tree I only warned the lads that the
  was "horrible gungey stuff"  but J got some on his forearm when  carrying 
  cordwood to the truck and ended up in casualty two days later with  severe 
  blistering chemical burns. The arm is healing slowly now.  I would  never
  believed tree sap could cause such a bad burn if I had not seen it  with my
  eyes. Even the nurses and doctors had never seen anything like it  before,
  called all their colleagues over to see for themselves.
  So watch out: Rhus verniciflua, the varnish tree, is nasty stuff, similar
  giant hogweed by all accounts.
  Andrew McManus
  P.S. are there any other nasties out there ?
  P.P.S. I missed this warning in 2002 but picked it out of the archives
  Re: Other names?
  "Edmund Hopkins"  <>
  Wed, 31 Jul 2002 10:04:52  +0100
  Baker, Rupert <> wrote:

  > Varnish tree is Rhus typhinus & is seriuosly dodgy - contact with wood

  > sawdust sap etc causes serious blistering & sensitisation


  Morning Rupert, I thought that was Rhus verniciflua, rather than the

  ubiquitous R typhina, causing acute dermatitis and hospitalisation, though

  typhina is also to be treated with caution. Was'nt there a piece in the AA

  journal some years ago? 

  Edmund Hopkins

  Arboricultural Officer

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