Poodle Dog Bush: Is the Hype Legit?

No, that is not marijuana. It is poodle dog bush – stay away!

Flowering Poodle Dog plant
Medium-sized, flowering poodle dog bush.

My poodle dog bush story started 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. The Tedmund Hall and Arnie Quinones fire firefighter memorial is just off Mt Gleason Road. You can reach this memorial from the road crossing at Pacific Crest Trail Mile 424.9. The area was completely overgrown in poodle dog bush. Unfortunately I had no idea what it was or even looked like.

Poodle Dog Bush
You can see the tall stalks and the “poodle head” here.
Young Poodle Dog plant up close
Young version

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.

The plant 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 it. 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.

Rash from 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 it, because it’s still out there. It will also likely reappear after any major fire in southern California. 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.